Dwayne Johnson’s face may be all over the posters, trailers and even the cinema screen in Black Adam, but he may as well not be.
Johnson is missing in action. Not technically, or even physically. But certainly in the only way that really matters – his heretofore irrepressible charisma. Because in Black Adam, it has been repressed. Not just repressed, but absent.
An entirely charmless performance, The Rock was little more than – sorry – a rock.
He has one facial expression over two hours – ambivalence. If he had looked troubled or defiant or even constipated, it would’ve been far more entertaining. And the cadence of his voice varies from earnest to slightly more earnest.
Johnson’s limited range as an actor has rarely been a problem because he had magnetism. Whether he’s goofing around in Jumanji or duetting with Kelly Clarkson, Johnson was effortlessly dynamic.
As soon as he flashes his toothy grin, we’re on his side, even if he’s doing something utterly ludicrous such as bringing down a helicopter with his bulging biceps or trying to convince us Red Notice is a good movie.
Black Adam takes all that good will built up over 20-plus years of a performance career and says, “Hey, ever wondered what an Aldi version of The Rock would be? Wonder no more! He looks and talks like The Rock, but devoid of personality!”.
Johnson is miscast in a role he’s been formally and informally attached to for 15 years, as a superhero with no defining characteristics other than a penchant for violence and a curiously tailored neckline.
Adapted from a DC Comics title, Black Adam is a spin-off from the delightful family friendly Shazam. The character hails from 2600 BCE, ostensibly an enslaved person who is gifted the power of the gods to overthrow a tyrannical ruler.
Job done and he disappears but the people of the fictional country of Kahndaq always remembered their champion.
Flash forward almost five millennia and Kahndaq is again under the thumb of someone else, this time the paramilitary imperialist terrorists Intergang. The Intergang are after the mystical Crown of Sabbac, made from a rare metal and said to imbue the wearer with great (evil) power.
Archaeologist and resistance fighter Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) is trying to locate the crown before Intergang, with the help of her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer) and son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). During a dangerous stand-off, she discovers Black Adam’s tomb and releases him from his imprisonment.
He is vengeance and rage personified, all smash first, ask never. The rather flashy and destructive antics attract the attention of the Justice Society of America – Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan).
The JSA want to bring Black Adam in, put an end to his fire and brimstone form of justice.
The two conflicts dovetail when two opposing forces have to work together (maybe) to bring down Intergang and its nefarious plan for – what else – all the power in the universe. That old chestnut.
From the moment Black Adam dropped its first trailer, it didn’t seem to promise anything other than another instalment of weightless, unimaginative fight sequences (check), hokey, stilted writing (check) and wanton destruction (check).
That’s all unsurprising and at this point, superhero fans were pretty willing to give these franchises a pass for being not as bad as it could be.
But what is astonishing is just how director Jaume Collet-Serra managed to drain all the charisma out of Johnson, especially as they had previously worked together on Jungle Cruise, a rather terrible movie in which at least the former wrestler was charming enough to skate through.
Johnson’s only superpower here is to be a total pill.
Let’s hope Johnson finds his mojo again because, let’s be honest, what we really want is Jumanji 3.
Black Adam is in cinemas now