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Critics Say ‘Meh’ to Dwayne Johnson’s DC Debut in ‘Black Adam’

The highly anticipated film has received mixed reviews from critics.

After many long years in development, false starts, and setbacks, Black Adam has finally joined the DC cinematic universe. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as the titular anti-hero, a former slave endowed with God-like power from the same wizards who empowered Shazam. Black Adam is awoken from his five thousand year slumber by archaeologist and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi). The film also introduces the Justice Society, featuring Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). 

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The film, directed by Jungle Cruise helmer Jaume Collet-Serra, comes at a time when Warner Bros. and DC Films are undergoing major upheaval due to the Warner Bros. Discovery merger and the departure of long-time DC Films head Walter Hamada. A replacement has yet to be named, but WBD CEO David Zaslav has said he wants to mold the DC universe into a more coherent and interconnected saga in the vein of the Marvel cinematic universe. As one of the only major DC releases this year, many are looking to Black Adam to reset the splintered DCU and lay the groundwork for a franchise rebirth. But despite Johnson’s proclamations that the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change, many critics don’t see much to celebrate in the new film.

Black Adam currently sports a 55 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics saying that the film offers little new to the already overstuffed superhero genre. Let’s take a look at what the top critics are saying about the film:

Peter Debruge, Variety

“The surprisingly serious-minded (but still plenty pulpy) project deprives Johnson of his greatest superpower — his sense of humor — while giving the now-straight-faced star a chance to play a character with some interesting contradictions.”

Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

“He’s a big bad who’s big mad, although it’s moviegoers who are apt to be irritated by this lame comic book-based origin story, which mimics Venom by pivoting around a supposed villain who’s destined to ultimately do good—minus the sense of humor that at least made Tom Hardy’s Marvel vehicle intermittently amusing.”

John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter

“Politics be damned, the first thing most comics buffs will notice is that, though we’ve prayed DC would move on, there are more than echoes of the Snyderverse here. In the very first sequence, we get slo-mo and flying globules of blood that could almost be outtakes from 300. Conspicuous slo-mo plagues the film, and rumor-mongers will already know of stronger ties to Zack Snyder’s films.”

Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair

“It does have moments of value here and there, and out of respect to Mr. Johnson and his halo of goodwill, I am eager to elucidate on those points. But there’s no point in denying the 270-lb wrestler in the room: even within the realm of the superhero genre, this is an ephemeral motion picture, lacking depth, originality, or storytelling panache. Much like a McDonald’s hamburger is technically food, Black Adam is technically a movie, and both can be intermittently enjoyable before you come around to ask “why am I consuming this?””

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Droll, witty, and proportioned like the proverbial outdoor brick-built convenience, Johnson is well placed to realise the superhero movie’s potential as surrealist action comedy. It’s a shame that all these other DC-ensemble heroes crowding into the action are frankly not really in his class, although Viola Davis’s brief cameo as Task Force X chief Amanda Waller brings the menace.”

David Fear, Rolling Stone

“When you add in an inability to figure out how to harmonize edgy, “bad-boy” genre elements with an almost corny notion of old-fashioned superhero tale-telling — tones are not blended so much as smashed together — along with action set pieces that resemble videogame cut scenes from 2010, a stock-images climax, a facile exploitation of a volatile political situation, and a sense that everything has been thrown together in a rush, it feels like you’ve been the victim of a multiplex scam.”

David Ehrlich, Indiewire

“And so Johnson has made a decidedly PG-13 movie that lacks the imagination to take anyone with it. There isn’t a single character here that doesn’t feel like a cheap photocopy of one from Gotham or the MCU, not a single beat that doesn’t feel like it hasn’t been audience-tested within an inch of its life, not a single fight scene that isn’t smothered to death by the DCEU’s signature CGI gloop.”

Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

“Still, that weird contradiction remains: Johnson, Collet-Serra and their team want edge, but without alienating family audiences. So you get massive action scenes without any obvious civilian casualties, and godlike powers without consequence. It’s all nicely shot in low-lying sun and dusty vistas, but it suffers from the weightlessness that gives superhero movies their bad name: great power, no responsibility.”

While the film has received an average rating from critics, it’s unlikely to deter both comic book fans and “The Rock” fans from turning out to see the film when it opens on Friday. Will you be watching Black Adam this weekend?

(featured image: DC Films/Warner Bros.)

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Image of Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.