The Unbeatable Rock | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

The Unbeatable Rock

Black Adam is just fine

Hey there! Welcome to this review of The Rock's new DC superhero movie "Black Adam." Before we get to the fireworks factory, let's talk for a second about the craft of writing and thinking about movies critically. I watch hundreds of movies a year, some of which are so bad they get a big, fat DNF from me instead of earning the closing credits. I don't write about the absolute dreck for a lot of reasons, even though, yes, sometimes it's very fun to absolutely destroy a terrible movie, but there's also something deeply cynical about taking pleasure in yucking someone's yum.

Cynicism about art and cinema is boring. It's exhausting for everyone involved and really only exists to make people feel good about their own tastes and limits them to sometimes quite narrow comfort zones. Ultimately, the way that I look at a movie is simple: Did the creator of this piece achieve their intention, regardless of whether that intention was brilliant, ridiculous, terrible, etc.? I'm not going to go into the new Adam Sandler comedy expecting it to be "Dr. Strangelove," because Sandler's not trying to make "Strangelove." At the end of the day, he's just trying to make something as good as "Happy Gilmore" and those modest intentions are what he should be graded on.

The Unbeatable Rock
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros
The Rock would like to have a word with your manager.

The other slippery slope is when a critic bases a criticism on what they would have done instead of what the filmmaker actually did. Again, it's all based on intention. When I see someone writing the different ending they would have given a movie, my response is usually, "Good for you? Make that movie then." If you're just trying to impress the readers with how much better your ideas are, then you aren't actually allowing yourself to have a relationship with someone else's vision.

I love loving movies. I'm familiar enough with the language of cinema to know when I'm watching a bad one, but sometimes even those bad ones have so much batshit artistry to them that they have a big warm place in my heart. There really aren't guilty pleasures. Just pleasures. Everyone else's judgement be damned.

So, when watching something like "Black Adam," a movie that the Artist Formerly Known as The Rock has been trying to get made for the last two decades, it's hard to just look at it for the movie that it is and not the movie that it could be, should be or might have been. The character of Black Adam has always been a third-string villain that dabbled in being an anti-hero, but mostly existed to be the arch-nemeses of Shazam.

Dwayne Johnson plays Adam as a much-less-evil, but still pretty murdery anti-hero, removing all the villainy to make a character that can serve as a foil and then eventual teammate with the other DC Extended Universe characters such as Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Shazam, Batman, The Flash and The Suicide Squad.

"Black Adam" as a movie isn't bad. The Rock tamps down his bottomless charisma to actually play a brooding sad boi who does most of his emoting through his eyes. There's a goofy MacGuffin, Pierce Brosnan playing a wizard, and The Rock basically inhabiting a character so strong that he's on the same power level as Superman and refuses to use doors. Do these things sound fun to you? Good! They are. The film also has a terrible villain, some sloppy storytelling and wonky editing. All these things can exist in the same movie without it being the best or the worst thing ever.

Cynically, this movie also exists as set-up to eventually get Black Adam to fight the Justice League and get more superhero movies in development. What kills that cynicism for me is that it's genuinely fun to see The Rock as Black Adam and I look forward to seeing him play the role as many times as he's contractually mandated to play him. I know it's difficult to find the art in commerce, but it's there if we look for it.

Black Adam
Dir. Jaume Collett-Serra
Grade: B-
Now Playing at Regal Old Mill, McMenamins, Odem Theater Pub, Sisters Movie House

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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