Black Adam: movie review and analysis

Poster+for+the+new+Black+Adam+movie%2C+released+in+theaters+on+October+21st+2022

Majestic Cinema

Poster for the new Black Adam movie, released in theaters on October 21st 2022

In terms of pure entertainment value, if asked whether or not DC’s newest movie Black Adam is worth watching, I would say no. When viewed with a critical lens, Black Adam does provide an interesting snapshot of the current socio-political climate. Then again, I did watch the movie with my 12-year-old brother, and he seems to have immensely enjoyed the movie at face value, if that counts for anything. So if you’re 12, or my brother, maybe ignore this.

The movie begins in ancient times in the mythical country of Kahndaq with the tyrannical king Ahk-Ton creating the Crown of Sabbac to gain power. The king is then killed by Teth-Adam, who was given the powers of Shazam by the Council of Wizards.

The movie then jumps to present day, where Teth-Adam is still hailed as a hero, but Kahndaq is now oppressed by the Australian militant group Intergang. Teth-Adam is released from his tomb after 5,000 years by archaeologist and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz, who has just obtained the Crown of Sabbac to keep it from getting into the wrong hands. As Teth-Adam slaughters a group of Intergang members, US government official Amanda Walker deems him a threat and contacts the Justice Society members Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher to apprehend him.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Both the plot and the title of Black Adam immediately draw associations with Black Panther, especially considering that Black Adam is currently in theaters alongside the second Black Panther movie. Black Adam centers around two characters from a made up country in the global south, one character vying for control of the throne, while the other character is hailed as a hero and attempts to restore balance. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, Black Adam fails to measure up to Black Panther, despite sharing many narrative similarities. The evil character Ishmael is a poorly developed, cartoonishly nefarious character that lacks the same humanity and depth given to Killmonger from Black Panther.

Black Panther wasn’t the only movie Black Adam seemed to take heavy inspiration from, however. Black Adam seems to be attempting to emulate Marvel’s appeal entirely. The character of Atom Smasher, played by Noah Centineo, seems to be a Spider-Man that traded in his web-shooting skills for the ability to increase his size. Once the apparent similarity between their naive and bumbling, yet honest and well-meaning demeanors is realized, Atom Smasher’s character falls flat.

And the half-baked romance between Atom Smasher and Cyclone is clearly just set-up for a future movie, and it feels unnecessary and awkward.

The character of Doctor Fate does manage to be slightly more endearing than Atom Smasher. However, Doctor Fate’s character can’t help but feel like an attempt at capitalizing off Doctor Strange’s success in the Marvel universe. Although it’s true that Doctor Fate’s comic book debut was 20 years prior to Doctor Strange’s first comic book appearance, they are both older mentor types and possess the ability to see potential futures, so it’s easy to see where the comparisons arise.

The narrative choice to have Doctor Fate sacrifice himself near the end of the movie is also reminiscent of another Marvel character: Iron Man, coincidentally also an older mentor figure. However, Doctor Fate’s sacrifice simply doesn’t pack the same punch as Mr Stark’s sacrifice because casual moviegoers haven’t had multiple movies over the span of 11 years to grow attached to Doctor Fate the same way they did with Iron Man.

Black Adam is likely a symptom of the larger trend of superhero movies becoming enormous franchises and driving away viewers in the process. A survey released by Morning Consult in August 2022 found only 41% of all respondents do not enjoy superhero movies, an increase from 36% last November. The term “superhero fatigue” has been used more frequently to identify the general public’s growing disinterest in superhero movies, citing repetitive plot lines, an over-reliance on cameos, and the massive influx in superhero content from Marvel, DC, and streaming services like Prime Video and Netflix.

Rather than focusing on making one movie the best piece of art it can be, superhero movie powerhouses like DC and Marvel seem to be focused on making as many sequels and crossovers as possible. Of course, it’s much easier to rake in profit when you have an entire trademarked universe of superheroes to work with.

Superhero movies, along with horror movies, are particularly interesting because they tend to be reflective of a fear or hardship facing society when the movie was released. The first Superman movie, for example, was released in 1978 and presented Clark Kent as a shining representation for an ideal America and as a beacon of hope for Americans dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and increasing unemployment and inflation.

Black Adam, on the other hand, deals with social justice movements, globalization, and Americans’ increasing awareness of the role America plays in ongoing imperialist efforts.

Some of the messaging is not very subtle at all. Near the beginning of the movie, Adrianna’s son, Amon, delivers an impassioned monologue about how the Intergang military personnel are just the latest colonial power to occupy their home country of Kahndaq. Amon talks about how Intergang’s efforts are not actually helping Kahndaq and are actually just stripping it of its natural resources, diluting its culture, and policing its people.

Although this monologue does serve a narrative purpose, it’s a very clear reference to other contemporary conflicts, such as the ongoing occupation in Palestine, the war in Ukraine, and America’s war with Afghanistan and Iraq, and the growing possibility of America or the UN sending our military to Iran. The question of whether or not these wars are justified has been gaining more attention in the past few years, with celebrities like Bella Hadid speaking out against the occupation in Palestine.

It gets really interesting when this analogy is extended to the whole movie, with Kahndaq serving as the impoverished country in the global south that the Justice Society, the interventionist force akin to the United States, is trying to “save”. There are many instances within the movie of Adrianna accusing the Justice Society of trying to take away the one hope Kahndaq has of liberation: Teth-Adam. But while that dialogue is being had, the movie ultimately concludes with the Justice Society being the force to instigate Kahndaq’s resistance against Intergang, reinforcing the idea that interventionist efforts overseas are a good thing. So while Black Adam uses dialogue between characters to make a half-hearted attempt to pander to an anti-establishment audience, the narrative follow-through leaves much to be desired.

But Black Adam doesn’t just address global controversies; it also addresses conversations about the use of violence that have been prominent within the United States recently. Protesting re-entered the public consciousness in a big way during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Along with the actual issue being protested, the effectiveness and ethicality of various methods of protesting were also called into question, specifically whether or not violence was an effective or ethical tool in protesting.

Throughout the movie, Teth-Adam uses violence as a first resort and doesn’t hesitate to kill people to get what he wants. The movie constantly makes jokes about this aspect of his personality, yet ultimately paints this trait as immature and unfavorable. The Justice Society, by contrast, avoids killing people as much as possible. Although the conversations around Black Lives Matter protests had more to do with potential property damage rather than protestors killing people, the conversation around violence in the movie and in real life is similar.

While the movie is pretty awful in terms of entertainment value, it does provide interesting insights into the conflicts current society is facing. I would recommend waiting to watch Black Adam until it hits streaming services, and only watching it if you’re really bored.