Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) struts his super powered stuff. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Black Adam, in theaters Friday, is about as loud and bombastic as one might expect when they amp up Dwayne Johnson's persona with super powers. It's fun and never boring, but is also wise to move fast enough to distract viewers from the questions it raises.
In 2600 B.C. Kahndaq, a slave is given Shazam powers by the Council of Wizards. Teth Adam (Johnson) had been buried for nearly 5,000 years before Adriana (Sarah Shahi) looks for the Crown of Sabacc in his tomb.
Adriana calls "Shazam" to awaken Adam, who discovers that his powers still beat any modern weaponry. But, the Justice Society, not to be confused with the Justice League, doesn't want a rogue superhero out there in Kahndaq.
So, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) arrive to try to stop Adam.
It's a bit odd that Warner Brothers is not advertising Black Adam as a Shazam movie, since it is so tied in to the same mythology. Comic book fans already knew where Adam came from. and it is explained for any newcomers.
Adam, and the film itself, makes a big point that he's not your average superhero, mainly because he kills people. But, he's still not that much darker than the rest of the DC or Marvel slate.
Adam kills bad guys, but they're all generic goons from the Intergang, an occupying force in Kahndaq. Villains in the Fast and the Furious franchise have been redeemed after murdering far more innocent people, so Adam gets a pass if he doesn't go the extra mile to save the bad guys while he's protecting the innocent.
It's just sort of accepted that Intergang is a group of bad guys who have taken over modern day Kahndaq and oppress the people. The movie seems to agree one shouldn't ask much more about Intergang or how Adam woke up speaking fluent English (the wizard magic. perhaps?).
Black Adam is pretty hardcore sticking a grenade in a bad guy's mouth, but the film still pulls the punch on that gag a little. Adam's silent physicality in the early scenes is more intimidating than when he starts to talk more.
The action scenes are big and loud, but still all computer-generated imagery. Man of Steel already explored flying people punching and smashing through buildings, and it was quite controversial for Superman regarding the collateral damage he caused. So Black Adam can play in that world, too.
The jokes about Adam's unstoppable force are fun as he walks through walls and pushes heavy furniture out of his way. Adam's disdain for his defeated opponents remains fun as director Jaume Collet-Sera finds new ways to frame generic Intergang member deaths.
The film pays lip service to the international morality of superheroes when it's really more interested in smashing. That's fine, because the world needs smashing movies, too.
But when Adriana questions the Justice Society for suddenly objecting to a Middle Eastern country having its own superhero, that's a good point that the Justice Society doesn't really answer for.
It's also a funny point because Adriana is right -- the world of superheroes ignored Kahndaq while they needed saving. But, the DC movie world also ignored the Middle East until it had a superhero, save a few random scenes of Superman rescuing Lois from terrorists.
Adriana also makes what should be the salient point of the movie: "You're not a hero, but you're not a monster, either." The world, and art, is more complicated than good guys and bad guys, but alas, it's all resolved with more smashing.
Black Adam's competition, Marvel movies, have managed to address this complexity in their films Captain America: Civil War and even Spider-Man: No Way Home. So it is possible to have poignant themes without sacrificing superhero action.
Adriana's son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) catches Adam up to the fact that he's awoken in a world in which other superheroes exist. Aman also catches up the audience in case their knowledge is limited to Batman and Superman.
Johnson has fun showing Adam annoyed with Amon, but trying to learn catch phrases from him. It's a different catch phrase joke than the one Edward Furlong taught Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, so it's fun, too.
As much as Black Adam is a darker take on Shazam, it also repeats the missteps of lesser DC movies. The introductions of the Justice Society characters are as discombobulating as the introductions of every member of the Suicide Squad.
So, if The Rock smashing more things than he usually can as human characters sounds like a good time, Black Adam delivers. It knows its audience, so the "WWE cranked to 11" aesthetic seems appropriate.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.