When a movie begins with a lengthy voiceover that introduces a lot of unfamiliar and complex character names, fictional locations and mythical lore, it’s usually not a good sign. Viewers who don’t already know the source material are immediately like, “What’s going on?!?” Every once in a while, a film such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring can pull off a prolonged “explainer” scene. However, Black Adam has two such sequences, and one comes after I thought the movie was drawing to a close. (There were still another solid 20 minutes of action past that point.)

Had director Jaume Collet-Serra and screenwriter Adam Sztykiel found a way to provide the needed backstory without voiceovers, it sure would’ve engaged me much more right from the start. Instead, that didn’t happen until the action switches to the present day and we’re following Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), a young skateboarder ripping through the ancient, forcibly occupied streets of “Kahndaq” while The Smashing Pumpkins blares.

Amon’s mom Arianna (Sarah Shahi), a professor who’s active in the resistance effort against the gang that controls her city, is searching for a legendary relic when she ends up releasing Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) from an underground tomb. “Who’s Teth-Adam?” you ask? That’s the real name of Johnson’s 5,000-year-old superhuman liberator who supposedly rescued Kahndaq from its evil king waaaay back in the day.

Teth-Adam is like the mightiest being who ever existed. For real, nothing and no one can touch him. And, despite his initial confusion about where and when he is after busts out of his tomb, he immediately goes to town obliterating Kahndaq’s bad guys and seems to be on Amon and Arianna’s “side.” Despite some horrid CGI in other parts of the film, especially near the end, I found Adam’s intro scene, where he’s zipping around killing gangstas at super-speed and floating in midair unscathed when a bazillion soldiers attack him, to look pretty darn badass.

Unfortunately, everybody on Earth has seen Johnson in other movies—including Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise — and therefore everybody knows he’s a supremely charming and likeable guy. But Teth-Adam is not looking to be anyone’s hero, and he’s kind of a dud in the personality department. Which makes you wonder why Johnson wanted to play this part so badly, and why Collet-Serra let him turn down (off?) his charisma for this role. He does have a few funny moments, but I’d argue his character is so low-key I’m not even sure I’d call him the star of the show.

Instead, that honor goes to 4 members of the Justice Society of America (“The say what—didn’t you mean Justice League, Erika?” “Nope.”) tasked with capturing Teth-Adam because he doesn’t feel guilty about killing bad guys like REAL superheroes do. The lucky ones are Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), who’s kinda like MCU’s Doctor Strange, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), who’s kinda like MCU’s Falcon; Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), who’s kinda like The X-Men’s Storm; and Atom Smasher, who’s kinda like a jock version of those few times MCU’s Ant-Man became gigantic. But as knock-off as those characters might sound, I totally enjoyed them and their banter and their bickering. I could’ve done with like 10 fewer slo-mo scenes of them fighting, but whatever, it’s a superhero movie. Seriously, though, Doctor Fate and Hawkman were my favorite, and I would definitely look forward to a JSA movie. (One isn’t in the works that I know of, but I’m sure it’ll depend on how well Black Adam does.)

As much as I dug the JSA crew, they represent a major issue with Black Adam overall. The JSA superheroes just kinda come in out of nowhere—the audience doesn’t know them and is probably thinking what I was thinking: “Ummmm what about Wonder Woman, Superman and all those guys? Why weren’t they called in to help with this situation” For a good chunk of the movie, the focus is on the JSA. When it’s not, the editing is so dramatic and often choppy—I legit thought someone made a mistake at one point when the scene totally switched out of nowhere and “Power” by Kanye West (ugh) starts blasting—that it’s tough to know exactly what’s going on. And then there’s that whole false ending I mentioned earlier.

But look, my expectations were low for Black Adam because in general I haven’t been a big fan of the DC superhero movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman. So I did end up enjoying it despite all of its issues. The funny thing is that it’s the ancillary characters and relatively unknown supporting cast members that saved the movie for me … and not one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the title role.

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