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The Street
The Street
Michael Tedder

The Rock is Called in to Save the DC Comics Superhero Franchise

So if you have no idea who Black Adam is, or why there’s a movie about him, there's a long answer and a short answer.

The longer answer, which we covered here, is that Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) has a lot invested in the universe of films based around characters from DC Comics. 

But in the nearly ten years this universe has existed, the results have been uneven at best, with some high points (“Wonder Woman”) and some misfires (“Suicide Squad”), and some mixed bags, as the Zack Snyder films are hard to dismiss entirely and also hard to wholeheartedly embrace, filled as they are with arresting visuals and generally strong performances, atop incoherent plots and a nearly overbearing solemn tone. Commercially, it’s also been up and down, with hits like “Wonder Woman” and underperformers like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

After the relative commercial disappointments of last year’s James Gunn directed “The Suicide Squad,” and “Birds of Prey,” (both of which were very fun and made an argument that Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the main star of the DC Universe), WBD really needs to find a way to make these films work. (And they would love it if they could find a way to get everyone to move on from new CEO David Zaslav’s decision to shelve the “Batgirl” film and to move ahead with Ezra Miller’s “Flash” film despite the star’s troubling behavior.

Which brings us to the short answer. DC wants a hit, and The Rock just really wants to be a superhero.

Don’t let his charm and muscles fool you, Johnson is a canny businessman as much as he is an entertainer. He long ago realized what his strengths are (and we don’t just mean his guns) and that the path to movie dominance was through blockbuster franchises built on established intellectual property. And he has no issues signing up for a video game-based film like “Rampage” if that’s what the people want. The superhero world was the natural next step.

He’s reportedly long been a fan of the Black Adam character, and has been lobbying to play him for close to 15 years. (Considering that Johnson is the rare movie star who can still sell tickets based on his name alone, it’s strange it took this long for it to happen.) 

Can Warner Bros. Discovery fix the DC Extended Universe, and make it more akin to the well-oiled machine that is Disney’s (DIS) Marvel Cinematic Universe? And if so, is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the man for the job?

Who Is Black Adam, Anyway?

Maybe the delay was in part because Black Adam is a bit of a deep cut, though he certainly has a fanbase and a history.

The character was first created in 1945 by Otto Binder and C. C. Beck, as an antagonist to the hero Shazam, who was then known as Captain Marvel. Like Shazam, Black Adam was given his magical powers by the wizard Shazam, who imbued him with the strength of the ancient gods. In this case, ancient Egyptian Teth-Adam quickly went rogue, and tried to take over the world. He was later banished, and returned 5,000 years later to give the heroic Shazam someone to fight. It’s a classic version of the trope where the first person to get the superpower can’t handle it, and they need to be stopped by the hero who proved worthy of the responsibility. 

The character was later changed from an outright villain to something more morally complex, a character that wanted to conquer the world because they thought they could do a better job serving as a leader than any mere human. 

In their acclaimed run on the early ‘00s “Justice Society,” writers James Robinson and Geoff Johns (who later helped oversee the DC Cinematic Universe) turned him into something akin to a cross between The Punisher and Superman, an antihero who has no problem killing his enemies, but ultimately believes they are serving the cause of justice. (In an interesting twist, Johns established that Black Adam knew for a fact that an afterlife existed wherein he would be judged harshly for his actions, but did them anyway because he felt it was right.)

This is the version that stuck, and Black Adam became a fan favorite, always a member of one superhero team or another. While he’s a bit of an obscure figure to the larger public, you can see why he would appeal to The Rock, who commented to The New York Times that “it’s the safer bet to continue to invest in the I.P. that the world knows. The Justice League — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman. I understand that. But it took convincing to get the studio to look past the Justice League into the DC universe, and there’s some really cool characters there. You’ve just got to give it a shot and trust the investment.””

Warner Bros.

What Are Critics Saying About ‘Black Adam’?

DC has had films that perform well with audiences and at the box office, and they have had films that...haven't. Warner Bros. Discovery would no doubt prefer the former. We'll have to wait until for the box office numbers to come in (though the early indicators look good) but the reviews are in.'s another mixed bag, it would seem.

Critics are complaining that the film sees a return to the overly serious Snyder days, and that Johnson is downplaying his natural charm in order to fit the grim tone. 

There's also complaints that while the film introduces a number of popular DC heroes, including Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher and Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate, director Jaume Collet-Serra, makes no attempt to explain who these characters are or what the Justice Society even is, which makes the film hard to follow for people that didn't read the comics. (Maybe they'll all get their own HBO Max series.)

But the action is said to be generally top-notch, if too CGI for some, and was reportedly so violent that it took four separate edits to get it to a PG-13 level. Plus, critics concede that it's hard to argue that Johnson looks like a superhero and is naturally inclined towards this sort of thing. 

Consequence's Liz Shannon Miller isn't blown away or anything, but they had a fun time. 

Rolling Stone's David Fear dislikes the movie so much, they wonder if it's time to put a fork in the DC Extended Universe.

The Verge thinks the movie isn't just bad, but also glorifies being a mass-murderer. Oops.

Writing for RogerEbert.Com, Matt Zoller Seitz praises Johnon's "thoughtful" performance.

Slashfilm doesn't mince words, straight-up calling the film bad.

IndieWire complains "Black Adam," feels like it's been done before, and is a knock-off of better superhero films.

The Wall Street Journal deems it forgetable.

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