PG-13, although I hear that the original cut of the movie might have been a hard R. It was a lot of back-and-forth between Warner Bros. and the MPAA. The reason is the kill count. Wow. Black Adam kills a lot of dudes in awful, awful ways. It's really a lighter toned Punisher with all of the live people being turned into dead ones on screen. It's almost uncomfortable that the message of the movie is that Black Adam absolutely should be killing people.
DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra
Well, I guess we'll never see Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam fight Henry Cavill's Superman, will we? I've railed against the DCeU. I have. While I think the DCeU / DCU is not good, I know that some people probably genuinely like it. But like a lot of otaku culture, it's devolved into something so awful that I actively hate it. I'm looking at the Snyderverse people. Man alive, you are keeping hate alive and well. Sure, a lot of us hate what you like (look, I used the word "hate"!), but you want to scorch the earth around you. I'm always an advocate for liking what you like. But stop claiming these movies are genius. If you find them fun, by all means, keep finding them fun. Honestly, when I heard that Henry Cavill was going to have another shot at Superman (before that was unceremoneously taken back), I was excited for him. Sure, Man of Steel is one of my least favorite movies possibly ever, but it's not because of Henry Cavill. (Besides, they played the John Williams Superman theme when he came on screen in Black Adam, so a lot is forgiven.) But Black Adam seems to almost be an embracing of some Snyderverse stuff that I thought was dead.
When I was really young and knee-deep in comic books (I'm now old and knee-deep in comic books), Marvel was always the edgy one compared to DC. DC was Superman and the Flash and Green Lantern. Sure, they had dark storylines. But these characters always stood out as beacons of light to society. They showed that there was another way. Yeah, there was plenty of violence. But the way that these characters often saved the day was thinking out of the box and played against their strengths for the sake of outwitting a bad guy. In my mind, Marvel was home of Daredevil, Punisher, and Wolverine. These were guys who saw the seedy side of the world and lowered their morals to fix problems. It's because they lived in New York, not Metropolis or Central City. Sure, we could argue that Batman had a dark tone and that Gotham was worse than any real world city. But Batman also has the Adam West version. (Real nerds are now screaming out, "Mike Murdock!" and they aren't wrong.) But since Man of Steel, it feels like DC has wanted to be the edgier brand. It's not that Black Adam shouldn't be edgier. It totally should. It's placing Captain Marve--I'm sorry, Shazam's villain in the driver's seat.
But what the hell is the message here? The movie is going out of its way to say that murdering people is for the betterment of humanity. Now, even the casual comic book reader is probably pulling out tomes of Punisher: War Journal right now. I totally agree. I kind of hate that The Punisher exists. But I will say this for Marvel. In the past decade, Marvel's pushed to slowly demonize Frank Castle more and more. While he exists as a character, there's the understanding that he absolutely should not be worshipped. Even Frank Castle hates himself. But in an era where we're trying to stop domestic terrorism, DC comes out with a character who just loves killing folks? I mean, there's this message throughout the movie where the Justice Society tries to stop Teth Adam from killing folks, but they just come across as naive and antiquated. Adrianna, the morally righteous character of the story who is trying to save Kandaq, advocates openly about Teth Adam's brand of justice. It just feels so telling about the Snyderverse movement. It just is a scream for more carnage and more gore and why? Why do you need your heroes to be active murderers?
Say what you will about The Punisher, almost every other hero thinks that he's an extremeist. He doesn't have a society or a group of supporters thinking that he's some kind of champion. There's a story where a bunch of cops start wearing Punisher skulls and try to take justice into their own hands. Frank himself calls them morons and stresses that he wish that he didn't have to exist. He then states practically point blank (if I remember correctly) that they should have hero worship for Captain America, not him. Instead, Teth Adam is embraced for his murderous rampage. There are some jokes that I could kinda / sorta enjoy. But it's not like Teth Adam is crossing some moral line that he swore that he would never cross. At least with Man of Steel, there's this moment where Superman hurts himself by killing Zod. He's broken for this moment. Teth Adam, killing like it's nothing. How depressing is that? And everyone rallies around him.
The smart version of me would save this point for last, because it is the most important point. But also, I feel like writing it now, so I'm going to do that. I loved Dwayne Johnson early in his acting career. It's not that I dislike him. The man has phenomenal comedic chops and has charm up to wazoo. But The Rock is getting in his own way, isn't he? I know. From the early days of the DCeU, Dwayne Johnson advocated for playing Black Adam. It's perfect casting. (Well, almost perfect casting. Maybe a Middle Eastern actor playing someone from the Middle East would be perfect, but that's a different argument.) The dude looks naturally like Black Adam from the comics. Okay, a bald version of the guy from the comics, but that could just be a choice. But this movie feels so ego driven it hurts. First and foremost, it's the Rock destroying everything. I read somewhere that, for playing a part in The Fast and the Furious, The Rock is not allowed to lose a fight on-screen. That explains so much about this movie. There's never really a physical threat to Black Adam. Maybe, MAYBE, in the final third act fight, there's a little something. But you know that the fight is going to Teth Adam. Dwayne Johnson has so much plot armor on that there's barely a story where he's the protagonist.
You know he's not the protagonist in this movie, right? For as much screen time as he has and that every shot I looked for regarding this movie, he has almost no agency in this film. No, the real protagonist is either Adrianna Tomaz or her son. They are the ones who make active choices. Everything they do is to change Black Adam, who is just borderline a force of nature. Yeah, the Crown of Sabbac may be the Macguffin, but so is Teth Adam. It's archeologists running around the world trying to stop this crown from falling into the wrong hands. That's the plot. Black Adam barely does that. It's the archeologists who are actively working out the goal of the film. They are the ones who make choices that affect the story. It's really weird. Heck, even the Justice Society, with a little editing, act as better protagonists than Teth Adam. Because I like dealing with one protagonist over protagonist roulette, let's make Dr. Fate the protagonist of the film. I like Hawkman, but he's a bit reactionary for me. Dr. Fate brings the Justice Society to stop a threat to Kandaq and the world. When they get there, they see this morally questionable tornado be as destructive as they thought he could be, but only to bad guys. They are then accused --kind of accurately --of being passive collaborators to the bad guys. They have agency to decide "Do we shut Teth Adam down or do we help the people of Kandaq?" Teth Adam himself, very little to do?
All of this is because Dwayne Johnson isn't allowed to lose fights in movies that he's in. They have to create stories around him because he's not allowed to be wrong. That's so messed up. Now, I'm going to give some credit here. Teth Adam, when he accidentally injures Amon, allows himself to be arrested. It's part of his troubled history and it probably is the only vulnerable part of the film. But then, everyone realizes that Teth Adam's way is the best way and he's released from his prison, in a really dumb way. But this could have been a movie where Teth Adam leads the story. This is borderline Captain America where someone has a second chance, only to realize that he's the villain all along. Teth Adam does these atrocities when he's younger. The world has rewritten history to make him a great champion. Cool. Imagine a story where he sees that he's branded a champion after 5,000 years only to discover that it's fundamentally against his nature. Maybe there's a consensus towards the end that Black Adam is a necessary evil and there's an ominous ending about what could Kandaq look like under a psychopath. That's a story.
But instead we get just the most chaotic grouping of story ever. There are moments where I had a really good time. I know I'm ripping into this movie, but I left thinking "meh, some stuff was cool". But I'm going to start listing things that made no sense to me and that's just me griping. First of all, gunshot wounds that feel fatal don't allow you to be the vanguard of a riot. That guy was straight up thinking that he was going to die from a bullet wound, which is super painful. The next time we see him, he's clocking around zombies left and right and telling jokes. No thanks. I'm pretty sure Dr. Fate didn't need to die. He just needed to convince Hawkman to use the Helmet of Fate to hold down Sabbac. Okay. Freeing Teth Adam from his prison is smart. Why did he wait to take out his breathing tube until he was in the water? I'm sure the power of the champions would have been really helpful in that Task Force X base. How does Amanda Waller have the dossier on Black Adam ready to go so quickly? Was she expecting the resurrection of Black Adam in her lifetime? He was gone for 5,000 years. This is all nitpicky. Heck, I could probably nerd explain some things in here with less-than-satsifactory answers. But I remember just watching this movie, thinking "Why are people acting absolutely bizarre?"
I'm pro-James Gunn. I know. I like Marvel movies and I like James Gunn now. But this universe needs to die. Any time they take a step forward, a less-than-impressive movie comes along. It's really weird that Dwayne Johnson doesn't want to make a movie with Zachary Levi. It's really weird that he wanted to make a Black Adam-centric movieverse. Just all of these things make no sense to me. For a guy who is burned out by reboots, I can't wait for a new DCU.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.