DC superhero films are doing something interesting and kind of Marvel-esque this year. They are releasing two films in the same series back-to-back. This week saw the premier of Black Adam, and just five months from now in March will be his opposite number, Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
Black Adam is an interesting character in the DC universe. He was a bronze age superhero (originally Egyptian, but in the movie, he’s from the fictional country of Kahndaq) who was granted superpowers by the Council of Wizards—the same superpowers that were later given to Captain Marvel/Shazam (whose movie I reviewed when it premiered). In the original storyline, Black Adam was corrupted to villainy and became the arch-enemy of Shazam, but in recent years, DC has reimagined him as an antihero instead (as was lampooned at the end of League of Super-Pets). In fact, he is presumably meant to sit on the vacant seventh throne in the Shazam Family’s “lair,” suggesting a crossover in the future.
This version of Black Adam is still from the bronze age, and also doesn’t regard himself as a hero. He’s driven by anger and revenge, and he’s not shy about it. But his actions are also driven by the fact that he’s…well, from the bronze age. As a wise man once said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” When he’s first awakened, Adam viciously slaughters an entire platoon of mercenaries (who are, admittedly, trying to kill him). In 2600 BC, this would (probably) have been considered just fine or even lionized. But in 2022 AD, it puts him at odds with the infamous Amanda Waller and her Justice Society, led by (ironically) a far too trigger-happy Hawkman.
Now, Black Adam must learn how to look past his vengeance and do things our way–not just superheroing, but also things like teamwork and self-government for his people…Oh, and also, the demonic force known as Sabbac is coming to bring about Hell on Earth.
So, how did they do? Pretty well. They didn’t knock it out of the park like they did with Shazam!, but this was a really solid movie.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
Black Adam is an interesting movie from a (mainstream) superhero perspective, and it shows a lot of dynamic range for DC. Adam being an antihero is only the start of it, although that’s a big point already. Many superheroes, especially in DC, are scrupulous about not killing people, except for the occasional really bad guy like Steppenwolf in Justice League. Adam kills a lot of people even when he doesn’t particularly have to. Granted, it’s war, where that sort of thing is…expected, for lack of a better word. And granted, Iron Man did the same thing in his cinematic debut. But still, it’s very different from the much darker-themed Batman.
But it goes deeper than that. It’s not often spelled out, but a lot of the movie is addressing themes of personal justice, systemic justice, and the role of heroes in the world (into which you might read law enforcement, the military, and global powers in general). For example, the people of Kahndaq are angry at Hawkman for saving the warlords who are oppressing them, and they cheer Adam when he kills them. Adrianna points out that Kahndaq has been oppressed for 27 years, but the Justice Society only showed up when they finally had someone on their side.
Adam has to deal with a lot of these things on a personal level as well. As I said, he doesn’t identify as a hero and is annoyed when the “official” heroes keep getting in his way. He’s praised by his people, but even Adrianna doesn’t like his methods. Our world is so foreign to him that it takes him a while to understand how it works, and it comes down to a lot of these same themes.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. The main thing is that throughout the movie, there is a subtext that is constantly wrestling with what is the right thing to do for people with power over others—and that goes for institutions as well as superpowered individuals. It’s the kind of movie that makes you think—I mean, yes, it’s still a popcorn flick, but it’s the kind of movie that makes you think a lot more than you expect. But it still has a lot of fun along the way, which makes it a strong showing all around.