No more nice guy: Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam is ready to kill
Today’s audiences want to see a superhero who kills.
And Black Adam was made for them, say the film’s producers.
In the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), there are characters who go on death sprees.
Harley Quinn – as played by Margot Robbie in the Suicide Squad movies (2016 and 2021) and Birds Of Prey (2020) – and members of the Suicide Squad are fans of manslaughter, but their dirty deeds are done on missions planned by the American government.
Outside of these characters, DCEU heroes tend to be non-lethal.
Superman never deliberately kills baddies. Batman tears into his enemies, but hands them alive to police commissioner Jim Gordon.
Joker, as played by Joaquin Phoenix in the 2019 origin story, dispatches several citizens of Gotham, but he is a villain, not a hero or antihero – though many fans think the line between “antihero” and “villain” is so blurry as to not matter.
Black Adam, with his powers of flight, super speed, strength and the ability to shoot lightning bolts, is more powerful than any of them, but he comes saddled with pain and rage, say the film’s producers in an online press conference. It opens in cinemas on Thursday.
Producer Hiram Garcia says Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam is “essentially a god” – he does not walk or stand on the ground, and spends most of the movie hovering.
“We like the hero vibe that DC is known for – that heroes don’t kill bad guys,” he says, adding that the no-kill principle can be found in the film’s classic good guy Hawkman (Aldis Hodge).
In the movie, his old-school nobility creates immediate friction with Black Adam, who feels his powers entitle him to play judge and executioner.
Johnson’s vigilante kills because he wants to – that is a power that audiences wish they could see in the real world, says Garcia.
“With everything that’s going on in the world, there’s a lot of wish fulfilment in this movie – audiences see someone doing things that maybe shouldn’t be done. But Black Adam does it that way because he can. And that can be fun to see,” he says.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Jungle Cruise, 2021), the film is based on a comic-book character created as a villain in the 1940s.
In recent times, he has been revived as an antihero, someone who kills those worse than himself.
Born in the fictional country of Kahndaq 5,000 years ago, the slave Teth-Adam (Johnson) is given superpowers by a wizard but is locked up with magic after abusing his might.
Released in today’s world, the ancient being is opposed by the Justice Society of America, a superhero team who finds his moral code abhorrent.
Its members include Carter Hall/Hawkman, Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan).
Meanwhile, members of the Intergang, a warlord group, are pillaging Kahndaq for the precious mineral Eternium.
Fighting them is a ragtag militia made up of Kahndaq citizens, with members including college professor Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) and her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer).
Johnson, Hodge, Centineo, Swindell, Brosnan, Shahi and Amer were present at a separate online conference attended by The Straits Times.
In previous interviews, Johnson has said Black Adam has been a passion project. As a child, he had fallen in love with the comic-book character when he saw he had the same brown skin as his own. That, and the fact the character looked angry, intrigued him as a kid.
Speaking to The New York Times in a recent interview, the 50-year-old American star says he “embraced” his character’s “brutality” and how he delivers death to “those who have it coming”.
“He’s violent and full of rage. But if we take the time to tell his origin story, it’s not a risk,” he adds.
But at the press conference attended by ST, Johnson prefers to emphasise the risks the movie takes by introducing so many new superheroes at the same time.
“This is not a sequel. It wasn’t an existing intellectual property that everyone was familiar with. These characters are coming to life for the very first time in cinematic history. It makes me so proud and honoured to be among this group,” he says.
Black Adam opens in cinemas on Thursday.
Who is Black Adam?
He was born in a 1940s comic book as a villain, but over the years has become an antihero.
In the DC Extended Universe, members of the Suicide Squad (2016 and 2021) are mercenaries with no fixed moral code and so can also be considered antiheroic.
In contrast, Black Adam has a moral code. But it is a brutal one that includes condemning villains to death on the spot. Given his powers – Black Adam can fly, shoot lightning bolts and possesses super speed and strength – modern superheroes consider him a menace that must be reined in.
While the movie does not take its story from published comic book material, its characters do.
Johnson’s character was a slave, born in the ancient land of Kahndaq, a fictional place resembling Eqypt.
Wizards grant the mortal man, then called Teth-Adam, the power of a god so he can fight on the side of the poor and the powerless. But in fighting Kahndaq’s elites, he goes too far, so the wizards entomb him in the Rock of Eternity – the same temple that American kid Billy Batson is transported to in Shazam! (2019).
Five millennia later, Adam is awakened in the present day and his brutal methods put him at odds with members of the Justice Society of America superhero team – not to be confused with the more famous Justice League, which had its own movie released in 2017.
Meanwhile, members of a Kahndaq militia are battling the Intergang, a ruthless band bleeding the country of its resource, the mineral Eternium.
The stage looks set for a fight between forces that want to preserve the status quo on one side, as promoted by the Justice Society of America, and forces that are willing to do violence to achieve a greater good, a belief held by the militia and Black Adam.
As Palestinian-American actor and comedian Mohammed Amer says at the press conference attended by The Straits Times, people live in a world with double standards when it comes to violence.
“The movie says terror is war waged by the poor. And war is terror waged by the rich. You see the struggle in the film itself, and what it says about good and evil and the balance that exists in the world.”
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