If you appreciate Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s smolder, director Jaume Collet-Serra with cinematographer Lawrence Sher have built this lackluster film around it, but that alone can’t fill two-hours and five minutes of relatively flat acting and lackluster dialogue. “Black Adam” may be doing well at the box office, but the film’s content doesn’t bode well for the continued unfocused DC cinematic universe.
The No-Spoiler Plot
In the distant pass, the king of Kahndaq, Ahk-Ton (Marwan Kenzari), was greedy for more power and decided to create the Crown of Sabbac. He needed the rare mineral Eternium and since it was normal for kings in 2600 BC to have slaves, he had hordes of bald slaves digging and dying for him. A young man, Hurut (Jason Christian), discovers it and instead of marking the place to mine for a vein, the young Hurut runs around to celebrate. The celebration doesn’t last long because the guards like their slaves docile and silent. One of the slaves attempts to lead a revolt.
Still, the Crown of Sabbac will be forged, but the king of Kahndaq, Ahk-Ton, never gets to wear the crown. He is killed by Teth-Adam.
Flash forward to contemporary times, Kahndaq is a land of oppressed people. They have suffered colonization and ruthless gang rule. An archeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) believes she knows where to the find the crown. She, her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer), and their colleagues Samir (James Cusati-Moyer) and Ishmael (Kenzari) get past the checkpoint guards and drive out into the remote desert where they find a cave within a mountain that has obviously been carved out by men. In there are ancient writings that only Adrianna can read. She finds the crown, but they have been followed and are ambushed. Believing that she can awaken a hero to fight for Kahndaq, she recites the incantation that frees Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) who saves Adrianna by killing the gang members.
Teth-Adam save Kahndaq and supernatural power and an ancient statue built of him, but this guy has been asleep for a few thousand years and a lot has changed. Luckily, Adrianna has a teenaged skateboarding son, Amon, who is a big fan of the DC superheroes who can wise up Teth-Adam. First of all, Teth-Adam needs a tagline, a motto. He also needs to defend himself against the Justice Society: Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). Teth-Adam’s slaughter of the men at the cave has caught the attention of the US government official (Viola Davis as Amanda Waller) who has sent the Justice Society to get Teth-Adam into custody.
This film needs a dose of humor and a questioning if the audience or the world really needs righteous slaughter and the rationale of justified violence. When you consider the talent assembled here who clearly have comedic chops–Johnson, Brosnan and Hodge, it is sad that the humor attempted here falls flat than Wile E. Coyote after he’s been smashed by a falling boulder. Barcelona-born director Jaume Collet-Serra has an eye for action, but for humor, timing is everything and the timing isn’t there despite the credited writing by Adam Sztykiel (“Made of Honor” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip”) with Rory Haines and Iranian-American (raised Muslim) Sohrab Noshirvani (“The Mauritanian”). At just over two hours, the film feels long. Be sure to stay for the mid-credits Superman scene.
You might think that I and every other Asian American should be rejoicing. DC has been big on diversity with Jason Momoa as Aquaman, but The Rock is overrepresented in Asian American Pacific Islander roles already. And since he and Momoa share a body type this isn’t really diversity when you realize that White guys like Andrew Garfield, Toby Maguire and Tom Holland can play Spider-man.
- A third of lead Asian American, Pacific Islander roles in top films played by ‘The Rock,’ study shows (21 May 2021)
- Asian American and Pacific Islander Inclusion Doesn’t Just Mean More of The Rock (17 June 2021)
Further, The Rock is a two-fer: He’s both Pacific Islander (Samoan) and African American. Momoa as Aquaman is also Hawaiian and European. They both can come under racially ambiguous.
The casting of the principal heroes of the Justice Society also leans heavily into the binary of Black and White. The Justice Society is composed of two White people–Pierce Brosnan as Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate and Noah Centineo as Albert ‘Al” Rothstein/Adam Smasher–and two Black people–Aldis Hodge as Carter Hall/Hawkman and Quintessa Swindell as Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone. Al Rothstein is supposed to be Jewish, but Centineo is not. Further, their commander is Black, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller.
It’s worth noting that Carter Hall has been played by a White person (Michael Shanks in “Smallville” and German actor Falk Hentschel in the Arrowverse). Swindell is light-skinned, but Ebony is embracing her and she also brings representation for non-binary people.
- EBONY Exclusive: Quintessa Swindell x Black Adam
- Quintessa Swindell Smashes Barriers in DC’s ‘Black Adam’
According to DC Fandom.com Kahndaq, Ahk-Ton is:
Further down in this entry, the country is placed firmly in West Asia:
The Sinai Peninsula is part of Egypt and it is the part of Egypt that is in West Asia.
West Asians are represented in the cast with Sarah Shahi, who is of Iranian descent, Mohammed Amer who is Palestinian American. North Africa is also represented with Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari as Ishmael Gregor/Sabbac.
Another Pacific Islander (besides The Rock) plays a pivotal role: Uli Latukefu as the superhero form of Jason Christian’s Hurut, but Latukefu also plays The Rock in the TV series.
What isn’t represented is East Asians. And that is underlined by the side trip Black Adam/Teth-Adam takes to a picaresque valley with a thatched roof hut. The dubbed in voices spoke Mandarin. That might not be apparent to most of the audience. There is East Asian representation in “Shazam” with Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, but was there an East Asian wizard in the Council of Wizards? In “Shazam,” the last surviving member of the council was played by Djimon Hounsou who also appears prominently in “Black Adam.”
The cast list in IMDb for this film lists the Wizards as:
- Djimon Hounsou: Benin, West Africa born actor.
- Raj Kala: Asian Indian Hindu actor.
- E. Lloyd Napier: Afro Caribbean?
- Kiara Rashawn: African American
- Onye Eme-Akwari: Nigerian-born actor.
- Sanna Erica: Amsterdam, Netherlands-born actress.
- Vince Canlas: Filipino American actor.
- Tonea Stewart: African American actress.
Canlas is credited in IMDb as Wizard #6. There’s East Asian representation with Helicopter #1 Pilot #1 (Regina Ting Chen) and Squad Mercenary #13 (Tang Nguyen), but like Wizard #6, these are minor roles. If major movies are going to visit an East Asian country–even for a side trip, they should have at least one major character from that area. Otherwise, it seems like East Asia is being used as decor and the minor characters are just PC quotient filler. I
What is also problematic here is that The Rock may be part African American, but African Americans do not claim North Africa where the majority of Egypt’s land mass is located. Generally African Americans are those who come from Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africans are effectively disenfranchised from the continent as a result. Similarly, West Asians are separated out from Asia which, in the US, most commonly refers to East Asia and in more recent times has also included South Asia and Southeast Asia. West Asians are left without a continent in a manner similar to North Africans as a result. In the US, there’s been a movement to pull this population from the category of White into Middle East North African (MENA) and with the recent wars in West Asia and the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorism, it has become obvious that the MENA American population does face prejudice.
“Black Adam” leans heavily into the binary of Black and White diversity. The so-called smashing of barriers by Swindell seems more like an expansion of that binary definition of diversity and to a certain extent so does the casting of The Rock. Should Johnson be playing a character who is supposedly of North African or West Asian? How many West Asian or North African superheroes are there and how many heroes are being played by actors of West Asian or North African descent?
Moreover, if Carter Hall can be played by a Black person, then why not another ethnic minority, including West Asian? In addition, the one Jewish hero, is not played by someone who is Jewish (Noah Centineo as Albert ‘Al” Rothstein/Adam Smasher) although there are many actors of Jewish heritage and some have shown up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (e.g. Jake Gyllenhaal or Andrew Garfield). Henry Winkler, who is of German Jewish descent, does play Adam Smasher’s uncle and supposedly the previous Adam Smasher, but is that really enough? Is this any better than having the lead in “Prince of Persia” played by Jake Gyllenhaal? Shouldn’t we want actors of West Asian and North African have the opportunity to play something other than terrorists? “Black Adam” should have been the opportunity for someone of Egyptian or of Arab descent and Muslim to portray a superhero.
“Black Adam” fully uses The Rock’s smolder but it could have been bolder by casting choices that would have smashed the Black and White diversity paradigm. Under the direction Collet-Serra, the film is a bloated two-hours and five minutes. “Black Adam” could have been leaner and it continues the tone of meaner than the MCU. I did not receive an invitation to a studio press screening and this seemed to be not uncommon. “Black Adam” opened on 21 October 2022.