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"Black Adam" squanders a heroic opportunity for Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson really wants you to know that he's no hero in the superhero blockbuster "Black Adam."

Black Adam

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mohammed Amer, Bodhi Sabongui and Pierce Brosnan. Written by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Now playing at theatres everywhere. 124 minutes. PG

⭐️ (out of 4)

News that Dwayne Johnson was finally playing a live-action superhero was greeted with variations of "What took you so long?" Every movie to date for this popular behemoth has seemed like a prelude to an inevitable Spandex-and-CGI gig. Now that he has one, the title role of DC's disastrous "Black Adam," the question becomes, "How did you manage to screw this up?" The answer is simple: Johnson fatally plays against type as a peeved anti-hero rather than an amused action star. As a former Egyptian slave freed after 5,000 years of cave imprisonment involving a magic incantation and a cheesy blue crown (made of something called "Eternium") he should be ready to drop-kick bad guys like the super-powered champion he really is. He does so only after much coaxing from his human acquaintances, played by Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui and Mohammed Amer, who live in a fictional desert domain called Khandaq. Johnson flexes his pecs with little enthusiasm and even less mirth, robbing his character of all interest beyond watching him stomp stooges and smash walls (he weirdly hates doors). All while constantly declaring that he's no hero and grimacing like he's passing a kidney stone. Beats me why the DC Extended Universe picked this pic to also unleash the Justice Society of America, a low-rent copy of the Avengers. Led by a permanently pissed-off Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), the JSA contributes precisely nothing to the story — and there really is no story here. After the banal prologue and wake-up theatrics, director Jaume Collet-Serra seems to have just turned the film over to the CGI team with the instruction, "Do your worst, people!" 🌓

—Peter Howell


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