Figure 1 – Black Adam Poster CENTER

Whoa, baby! I took a couple of weeks off longer than I had intended, and now it’s well into 2023! Well, happy New Year, y’all! Much love and many good feelings go out to all of you who read this; and I hope you had as good a holiday season as you wished for! This is the beginning of my tenth year writing this column for Amazing Stories® online, by the way. So I guess we should jump right into it, with a review of what Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hoped would be his next blockbuster.

Figure 2 – Black Adam IMAX poster (Spanish) CENTER

It’s hard to find official Black Adam posters online, so pardon me for Figure 2. From all accounts, Black Adam is a vanity film executive-produced by big Dwayne. But since it came out in late 2022 and it’s now streaming everywhere in 2023, I guess it wasn’t the kind of blockbuster he was hoping for (maybe on the order of Avatar, the Way of Water or Wakanda Forever, both of which are still in theatres and show little or no sign of slowing down—except I just learned Wakanda starts streaming on Feb. 1). Both of these films I have yet to see, as The B&T Lynne and I are still a bit hinky about sitting in an enclosed space for a couple of hours with a bunch of people who won’t be, for the most part, masked. Yes, we’ve both had lots of boosters, but Covid’s a sneaky little bugger, with all sorts of nasty variants. But we are planning on seeing the James Cameron epic in 3D (even though she has trouble seeing 3D). So that will come.

Anyway, for those who aren’t aware (hey, I’m almost one of them), Black Adam is a character who is the opposite of C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel—oops, I mean “Shazam.” (“Captain Marvel”—Fawcett publications somehow lost its copyright on the name of Beck’s creation, the “Big Red Cheese,” so Marvel Comics, even before they were a subsidiary of Disney, grabbed it for their own superhero. But Black Adam was created by the writer Otto Binder (half of the writing duo “Eando Binder”) and the original Captain Marvel’s creator, C.C. Beck in 1945, two years before I was created by Harold and Molly Fahnestalk. I was a big fan of Captain Marvel (1), but somehow I never clicked with Black Adam. Maybe they decided they needed a foil for CM(1), since nobody on that Earth was as powerful. CM(1) was created as a lighthearted hero for kids, mostly, because he had opponents like Dr. Sivana, who was bald, wizened, wore glasses, and totally evil, and a talking caterpillar (called a worm) from another planet named Mister Mind. With opponents like these, can anyone believe CM(1) was supposed to be a serious superhero comic? (And for anyone who’s seen the movie called Shazam! CM(1) also has a family.) So “Shazam” was not supposed to be the character’s name, because it was the name of the wizard who transformed Billy Batson into CM(1). It’s complicated, yes? I’m not sure how long the original Black Adam’s character arc was, but he was killed off in the late 1940s. DC brought him back, and that’s probably where Big Dwayne saw him first.

To get back to the Black Adam movie, it took elements of the comic and, like the Shazam! movie, made the movie and the character(s) a bit different. In the original comic (according to Wikipedia, because I don’t have any of the originals, even though I’m a fan). The CM(1) story and the BA story have changed a lot since the original comic, partly because of DC’s acquisition of the original Fawcett characters, and partly because DC keeps screwing around with its characters—witness the death and resurrection of Superman and the “New 52,” where almost all DC characters were rebooted and revamped.) Not that that’s anything new; Wonder Woman was changed to an ordinary woman (Diana Prince) using judo instead of superpowers and an invisible airplane, in the 1960s. Anyway, the name “Captain Marvel”’s trademark expired in the 1970s, and Stan Lee got Marvel Comics to purchase it, then DC eventually officially renamed the character to “Shazam.” Make sense?

Figure 3 – Shazam #1 CENTER

Which kinda brings us back to the original contention that the movie in question (see the title, which I’m abbreviating to BA, and the character to BA for brevity’s sake) is not a blockbuster per se, but a hot, muddled mess. There’s a way to take a character whose morality is, let’s say, ambiguous, and redeem that character in the audience’s eyes. One way is a heroic sacrifice of life; obviously, since DC plans to reuse this character, that option is out.

Another way to redeem the character is to have him or her willingly submit to whatever punishment the authorities have deemed proper. In this case, the “authorities” are the men and woman of the heavy-handed self-styled “Justice Society,” or JSA (a so-called “Golden Age” precursor, originally, of the modern Justice League of America (JLA), the latter comprising Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and a revolving cast of lesser characters). In perfect accord (sorry ’bout this pun) with Marvel’s “Sokovia Accords,” where a world court has taken it upon themselves to decide that someone must decide where and when the “metahumans” can act, the JSA has decided that because BA’s so powerful and has killed people (only the bad ones AFAIK), they have the right to summarily execute and/or (ha!) imprison him.

Here’s the deal: “Teth-Adam” (his original name, meaning, roughly “strong human”) is from approximately 2600 years ago, in the invented country (somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula) of Kahndaq. (In the original comic, I believe it was Egypt, but history books wouldn’t show anything like this background, so DC invented a new country.) Because a hero was needed, the Council of Wizards, headed by a wizard named Shazam, created Teth-Adam the hero by having him say Shazam’s name; the name was an acronym of all-Egyptian gods: the stamina of Shu, the swiftness of Heru, the strength of Amon, the wisdom of Zehuti, the power of Aton, and the courage of Mehen—all of these have Greek counterparts, which is why Billy Batson can become CM(1), with Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. So from here on in, we’ll not worry about original vs. today, or comics vs. films, and just examine what this movie’s done.

At the time of Teth-Adam’s creation, Kahndaq was under the rule (or misrule) of King Akh-ton, who enslaved the country and had them all digging for pieces of a mineral found only in Kahndaq, called eternium (another meteor, like Wakanda’s vibranium?) so he could make a magical article called “The Crown of Sabbac,” which would make him all-powerful (thanks to a bunch of demons. Nobody said why this would do this, btw). He succeeded in doing so, but because the Crown would bring about a demon apocalypse, the Council of Wizards (and Shazam himself) decided to create a superhero and Teth-Adam became Black Adam (still called Teth-Adam at that time). That would have been great, because BA killed Akh-Ton and blew up his palace, but TA misused his powers and was imprisoned supposedly for all eternity below the ruins of the palace, by the self-same wizard council. With me so far?

Cut to modern-day Kahndaq, ruled by a bunch of bad guys with guns; a crooked bunch called “Intergang.” One wonders why the world community is allowing this to go on, since Intergang is making no attempt to hide the fact that they’re also enslaving the population and exploiting the country’s resources (whatever they are). So as in Kahndaq 2600 years ago, a young man (our secondary hero, an ordinary teenager named Amon Tomaz (Bodhi Sabongui) who, armed with his skateboard, is calling for a revolution. This is familiar territory; we’ve seen it in this movie (and many others). His mother, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), is part of a small revolutionary cadre that is looking for the Crown—forgive me if I get part of this wrong, it was a long (over 2 hours) movie—to preserve it for a museum or something.

I don’t want to throw too many spoilers into this review, because some of you won’t have seen it for your own reasons; suffice it to say that BA is revived and released, and he hasn’t changed a bit since he’s been in some kind of stasis. Amon wants him to be the hero legend says he is, and free Kahndaq from Intergang, but BA has other ideas. Over the course of the second half of the movie, he’s gradually brought around to Amon’s POV, only the JSA has arrived in the persons of Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Cintineo). These guys, led by Dr. Fate, have decided that BA is too powerful (and he has this habit of killing bad guys out of hand so they can’t continue their depredations—hey, that’s how it was done in his day) so they need to kill him or imprison him without even talking to him (or listening to him). Rather heavy-handed, I’d say. Their powers are varied and, as far as I can figure, all rather magical. Hawkman, who is apparently impervious to all harm, can fly, and has a magical mace-cum-battleaxe, has a one-track mind about this. So for my money, this is the second major problem (the first was BA’s moral ambiguity—he kills people, bad people, and isn’t interested in being a hero—remember?): the “good guys” aren’t all that good at all. (Frankly, I sympathize with his point of view, to some extent.)

Another major problem is the amount of CGI expended on explosions and so on; let’s face it, any superhero movie has to utilize CGI these days, but for cryin’ out loud, can we just make it judicious use of CGI? For example, BA has a habit of just walking through any wall that gets in his way (Dr. Fate asks him “Didn’t they have doors back where you came from?”), and there is so much collateral damage from him, Intergang, and the JSA that it’s hard to believe there’s anything LEFT of Kahndaq’s capitol, or indeed its people, when the movie ends.

Yes, there’s a story arc, but frankly, none of the super guys (and gal) appear to be really heroic. The closest thing is the kid, Amon. And the Crown of Saddac, which will allow the demons to unleash the hordes of Hell?
Pfft. These hordes are so weak—burning skeletons armed with what I assume are bronze swords (hey, they didn’t really know about steel or iron in much of the Middle East of that day)—that they can be dismembered by a kid with a skateboard. This whole thing just doesn’t hang together.

Dwayne Johnson is perhaps the best-built actor playing a superhero today. (He works very hard at his physique.) And he’s not a bad actor, though mostly in his career, he hasn’t been called on to do much more than, say, Herr Schwarzenegger has done. Dwayne’s strength, as far as I can see, is more in the comedic line (vide Be Cool [2005] with John Travolta et al.). I suspect he’s better suited, despite his size, to doing comedic roles, and I expect him to fully embrace that when he gets too old to be a convincing superhero (unlke Ahnold, who keeps doing the Terminator role over and over), and probably be pretty good. He’ll have a few more years of these types of role—he would have been an excellent Superman, IMO—and then buckle down to some real acting.

You, dear reader, may disagree completely. That’s okay; I have never claimed to be a Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert—not that kind of reviewer. I just see a boatload of movies every year, and I am very well read in the genre (SF/F, horror, etc.), so I have opdinions and a bully pulpit. I’m willing to discuss my opinions if you’ll just write.

If anyone has any comments, they/you can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome, even if you disagree; all I ask is that you be polite, please. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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