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THB #241: Two Review Friday - 1. Black Adam
This week’s two new wide release openers couldn’t be more different, aside from relying heavily on a movie star/stars. They are much needed high-profile releases after a two month run of under-movied movie theaters, which has some lovely underdog stories, but was one more step in endangering the future of theaters.
Sadly, both films under-deliver on their promise.
I find it a remarkable thing to make a movie that is hysterically relentless in extreme action, yet somehow, someway, boring as hell. And this is what is achieved with Black Adam.
Let’s start with the title/character name. “Adam” is consistent. The “Black” part, not so much. In fact, it is a point of conversation throughout the film. Meaningless, pointless conversation. But it’s not just that the conversation is confusing and poorly written… it is wildly unnecessary and actually slows the movie down. I like a good call back as much as the next guy, but this movie doesn’t seem to get that we already got the idea before it returns to ideas over and over to no real benefit.
After we get through what seemed like an hour - but is really about 5 minutes - of the history (complete with badly written voiceover) of the non-hero-hero that will become “Black Adam,” we get the teen-ish boy skateboarding through the fictional city like kids skateboarding isn’t something that stop being an effective movie trope since Back To The Future did it perfectly in 1985.
This is typical of the film. It is loaded with stuff that someone thinks is AMAZING! But it is only amazing in context. And the movie is so dense with unclear motives, unclear power, unclear ideas that its like someone dropping random things in a smoothie because, what the hell!, it all goes to the same place anyway. And some people will consume this film like every element that is cool satisfies and the incoherence of the storytelling won’t bother them. It was endlessly frustrating for me.
All four members here of the Justice Society of America (they leave the America off except in intitals) had me rooting for them from the moment I saw them. Always loved Hawkman. Fan of Aldus Hodge. This is the coolest version I’m seen. Love Pierce Brosnan and the cool he brings to Dr. Fate. Didn’t really know Noah Centineo before this, but his lumbering goof of an Atom Smasher seemed to be a fun idea. And Quintessa Swindell was one of my favorite pieces of the In Treatment puzzle in the Uzo Aduba season… funny, edgy, stunningly beautiful. I never heard of Cyclone (at least not besides “Storm”), but completely game.
But this group never made a whole lot of sense in the film… not as a group or individually. Atom Smasher was probably the clearest, as he was used mostly as a sight gag or a road block… nothing too complex. Hawkman is also pretty simple… he is strong, can fly, he likes to spin his mace, and he is sarcastic. I have no idea what the depth and breadth of Dr. Fate’s powers are, except that he knows the future… but how powerful is that when what he sees as the future can always change. Freakin’ Cyclone is a wind machine, but again, not clear on what she is really capable of or what her vulnerabilities are. Moreover, her suit looks like a Halloween costume for the 1970s with no suggestion of how it fits her powers. I guess it’s a step up from Slutty Cheerleader Doing A Marilyn Monroe Imitation But With A Green Dress, as seen before from the comic.
All that said… even as you are watching this movie toss its own salad, you can see how it could have worked. I like all of these actors. I am fine with the fundamentals of the characters. The action work is not special, but not terrible.
It was all just way, way, way too much. This is a movie where you can explain the movie in a few simple sentences.
God-like superpowered man is revived thousands of years later be a female freedom fighter and her son to save the freedom of the place he lived and once-died in before getting his powers from the Magic Immortals. His first instinct is to lash out against anyone he can find to hurt/kill, but the woman and child steer his violence towards a righteous path. Meanwhile, The Justice League of America (since America love to butt in) tries to capture him and cage him because they see his as a worldwide threat, not understanding that he is just waking up from a very, very long nap and is soooo cranky.
Take that and add a bunch of ornaments. Great. But also, remember that what people take away from any movie, action films no less than others, is the emotional umph, not the superpunches or explosions. But also… again… don’t forget that in a action movie, audiences are not interested in long, boring history lessons.
Why do the mom and kid need Black Adam to come back and be on their side? Who is the bad guy?
If you are going to take a side trip, like the Justice League of America… WHY?
A central problem of this film is that there is no definable villain in the A-story… saving the land of Black Adam, his ancestors, and the generations that have come since he’s been “asleep.” So the movie somehow decides to make the JSA the “other team” in the B-story. Black Adam himself is not a sophisticated weapon… he gets smarter, but he is basically a dumb, murderous animal for most of the movie. But our attention is split between the A-story, in which there is a real need for him and the B-story in which the JSA is trying to stop him because he seems dangerous (not nearly a specific enough idea to carry a movie).
And the giant problem with the JSA is that, though they are presented as a thoughtfully assembled team like in a Mission:Impossible episode, they are not. Two of them are familiar with one another. The two younger heroes are random and not turned into family. Even something as cliche as having a crush on one another - they really don’t - would be better than nothing.
You may have noticed that Marvel’s Ant-Man movies are not really about getting small or getting big… they are about the anti-hero’s journey. All Atom Smasher gets is getting big. All Cyclone gets is some well-timed wind. No one’s fault but the screenwriters.
More to the point, The Terminator is not about The Terminator. He is one of the great characters of all time. But the movie is about the mother and the kid being pursued by the unstoppable killing machine. Black Adam is about The Terminator. It’s just not that interesting.
I won’t even go down the other roads of issues with the film… like why they hired the hottie from Netflix’s 365 to play a freedom fighter who has zero romantic interest or involvement with anyone. Not that mom’s and freedom fighters can’t be gorgeous. But when every actor is beautiful, it gets monotonous. Isn’t there another choice, that is, aside from Mo Amer as the overweight, slobby, lazy middle eastern comic relief.
If they just simplified the material, the elements in this movie could have made it a great success. They were so busy trying to avoid cliches that they forget to entertain the audience.
Black Adam is a man out of time. They go to this joke 4 or 5 times. So really go for it. Allow him to really care about understanding. Let him have a moment of doubt. Work the idea. But they are so busy throwing the next idea onto the fire, it’s wasted.
Give Black Adam a target that matters to him. We don’t really know what he wants in this film because there really is nothing to achieve. Offer up the possibility that he can bring his child back to life. Give him a real connection to the people being oppressed… don’t just tell him… make him feel it. By the time they literalize a villain from his past - which is completely stupid and unbelievable… they don’t really even try - no one cares. It’s just another thing to smash.
This movie isn’t about feelings. It’s about action. Relentless, brainless action. And there is a pleasure to that.
But it’s empty calories.
And it is frustrating as hell, because they put so many things together the right way… but they forgot that this is about storytelling, first and last, forever.