Black Adam review: "Dwayne Johnson's live-action DC bow is fast, fierce, and fuzzy"

Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam
(Image: © DC/Warner Bros.)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Fast, fierce, fuzzy: nicely unruly, naggingly undisciplined, Johnson’s live-action DC bow strains to entertain but struggles to breathe amid the noise.

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At key points in Dwayne Johnson’s live-action DC debut, Black Adam, the Justice League posters in a kid’s bedroom take a beating. Superman is lightning-scorched. The Flash slashed in two. Ka-pow! Goodbye, Batman. It’s almost as if Black Adam is trying to make a point… 

That’s indeed the case in director Jaume Collet-Serra’s emphatically unrestrained superhero movie, which disrupts DC Films’ decor with all the finesse its title character brings to crashing through walls. While Collet-Serra attempts a brash, no-nonsense bid to rebirth the DCEU, his methods have mixed results: sometimes satisfyingly maximalist, sometimes merely messy. 

He doesn’t muck about, at least. After a brisk prologue details Teth-Adam’s (Johnson) backstory of slavery, wizardry, and revenge in Kahndaq, we cut to today, where crime syndicate Intergang dominates the region. When Intergang and resistance prof Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) inadvertently reawaken Adam, the “class-A metahuman” swiftly makes his rage-born presence felt, thumping planes and pulverizing trucks. Duly, Task Force X’s Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) mobilizes superhero team the Justice Society of America to curtail this loose cannon.  

A mix of chase movie and burly brawl ensues, with Adrianna’s kid Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) setting the propulsive pace as he skateboards between locations. Along the way, there are hapless attempts to cool Adam’s boots by Justice-servers Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). 

Teth is no average opponent and certainly no hero, as the film repeatedly asserts in bids to distinguish him. He won’t listen, or surrender, and he doesn’t want a lunchbox. He doesn’t do doors, either. The pay-off is an aggressive, adrenalized DCEU variation, though it’s less break-away fresh than it thinks. The results often resemble the Snyderverse with a temper, buffeted between cheesy slo-mo scenery-trashing and Lorne Balfe’s relentless score. 

Nods to Shazam!, The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker are intentional, though the Dark Knight echoes in a Doc Fate speech land awkwardly. And the rushed plotting leaves an over-crowded stage variably served: while Centineo and Brosnan stir intermittent laughs, Marwan Kenzari’s villain is no crowning glory. 

Repressing his smolder judiciously, Johnson shoulders the show well enough. Sift through the wreckage and there’s potential in Adam, even if his film is more an extended, excess-all-areas introduction than a Batman Begins-ish slam-dunk. To paraphrase the curiously under-surprising credit scene, he gets our attention. But the major question left frustratingly unresolved is, can he do anything new with it?

Black Adam reaches cinemas October 21. For more, check out all the upcoming superhero movies heading your way soon.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.