I still remember how inconsequential Dwayne Johnson’s brief appearance in “The Mummy Returns” (2001) was. While the trailer emphasized this hulking star wrestler’s participation in the film to considerable degree, whatever he did for the film did not amount to much on the whole, and he did not often seem to be on the screen at all as mired in lots of special effects.
Strange to say, I got a similar impression when I watched Johnson’s new film “Black Adam” at last, the latest product from the DC Extended Universe. Since “The Mummy Returns”, Johnson has risen as a major Hollywood star actor during next two decades, and I came to appreciate his star quality to some degree while really enjoying some of his films, but he simply occupies the screen here without generating much sense of fun and entertainment. As a result, his character often feels like being no more than a floating wooden CGI, and his monotonously gloomy seriousness frequently clashes with occasional clumsy self-conscious attempts for some amusement in the film.
Because the movie is your average superhero origin story, its opening part naturally presents the background story for Johnson’s superhero character Teth-Adam, who was originally a plain common person in an ancient kingdom named Kahndaq. Thanks to a certain powerful local mineral and some interventions from several powerful magicians, Teth-Adam came to acquire his superpower and then fought against an evil king who had exploited and oppressed the people of his kingdom, but his big showdown with that evil king led to a long, long, and long imprisonment in one big stony tomb because of a reason to be explained later in the movie.
Anyway, Teth-Adam happens to be released at last thanks to a young local woman named Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), who has been looking for where he has been buried for a desperate reason of hers. Kahndaq has recently been occupied by some powerful international criminal/military organization, and she sincerely believes that the return of Teth-Adam, who has still been regarded as a legendary local hero, will bring a new hope to those oppressed people of Kahndaq just like that old ancient time.
However, Adrianna soon comes to find that Teth-Adam is not as heroic or righteous as she and many others in Kahndaq believed. He turns out to be a mighty killing machine full of anger and fury, and we are accordingly served with a big sequence of mass destruction a la Zack Snyder as Teth-Adam casually and brutally kills a bunch of mercenary soldiers unwisely standing on his way.
When Teth-Adam is later brought to Adrianna’s apartment, Adrianna’s young son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) cannot possibly be more excited about that as your average superhero fan. We see lots of DC superhero stuffs in his bedroom, and we are not so surprised as observing how eagerly this plucky boy attempts to give Teth-Adam some advices on being a cool superhero.
Meanwhile, the movie also brings several other superhero characters into the story. Once the presence of Teth-Adam is detected, the four members of the Justice Society are swiftly sent to Kahndaq for handling and then containing him, and what we get next is a more violent version of what we already saw from “The Avengers” (2012). As these four Justice Society members try to suppress their mighty opponent in the middle of Kahndaq, lots of things are destroyed here and there, but all these actions do not feel that impactful as drenched in lots of bland and uninspired CGI. To be frank with you, I am now missing when a certain climactic moment of “The Avengers” unintentionally took me back to “The Human Centipede” (2009).
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the superhero characters in the movie eventually band together in front of a certain big threat against not only Kahndaq but also the whole world, but the movie does not give us much reason to care about that due to its deficient storytelling and characterization. While Teth-Adam remains quite uninteresting even after he reveals a painful personal story behind his glum attitude, the other superhero characters in the film are mostly defined by their respective superpowers rather than each own personality, and they sometimes look like the cheap imitations of many other superhero characters ranging from Professor Xavier to Deadpool. In case of the villains of the film, they are all the more colorless, and that is the main reason why the climactic part of the film feels quite hollow and redundant to say the least.
To make matters worse, many of the cast members in the film are wasted as often looking like simply waiting there for getting their respective paychecks. Although he can be a bit more serious and intense as shown from “Faster” (2010), Johnson is curiously stiff and lifeless here in this film, and it is rather distracting to see how he seems to emulate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robotic acting in “The Terminator” (1984) at times. While Sarah Shahi and Bodhi Sabongui manage to acquit themselves well, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, and Pierce Brosnan are criminally under-utilized without many things to do, and Brosnan frequently seems to be content with merely filling his spot and then getting paid later.
Overall, “Black Adam” is utterly disappointing compared to other recent successful superhero flicks or director Jaume Collet-Serra’s more enjoyable works such as “The Shallows” (2016). Seriously devoid of fun and personality, the movie is just a bloated teaser for whatever will come next, and, folks, I do not give a damn for now.