Arriving too late to save the DCEU, Dwayne Johnson’s long-in-development passion project Black Adam smashes onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. After years of waiting for the antihero’s arrival, the film is decent enough but it struggles to introduce a title character we can care about when the supporting heroes are often far more interesting. WB delivers a strong two-disc 4K release with a strong Dolby Vision transfer, an excellent Atmos audio track, and some worthwhile bonus features. Recommended
The nation of Khandaq lives under the oppressive Intergang mercenary regime that exploits the local population as they mine the rare mineral Eternium for their advanced vehicles and weapons. Archeologist and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) searches to find the fabled Crown of Sabbac - an ancient relic said to usher in an era of darkness to whoever wears it. After finding the crown, Adrianna frees the entombed hero of Khandaq Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson). With his rage and powers unchecked, the Justice Society with Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) arrive to prevent the total destruction of Khandaq - but Black Adam is the least of their troubles when an even more powerful and deadly villain is revealed.
Well… it’s weird to be reviewing this movie now after so much has happened with Warner Brothers and DC in the last few days. For over ten years Dwayne Johnson has been working and hyping his arrival as Black Adam within the greater DCEU forging his own take on the character that largely ignores ties to his franchise brother Shazam! in an effort to bring back Henry Cavill for another would-be hero vs hero beat’em up smash-fest involving the Man of Steel. Well, that’s all over now, so we’re left with an entertaining but severely clunky introduction to the infamous anti-hero.
To start with the positives, I really liked Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam. He completely physically embodies the character with every sinewy muscly fiber of his being. For long stretches, he’s given little to do but float around and glower while zapping out some lightning bolts, but the final half of the film sees the character find a fitting arc and emotional base to stand on. When the big action setpieces are called for, Johnson delivers the goods.
Then we have the Justice Society of Hawkman and Dr. Fate who are so great that they become precariously close to being a distraction from our main hero. Aldis Hodge is an incredible Hawkman and in true Bond fashion every time Pierce Brosnan is on screen he steals the show. Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone were fun but ultimately not as impressive as the rest of the team. We get some great superhero vs anti-hero action with this lineup and it's thrilling to see them on the big screen.
But like so many DCEU flicks, this one has some issues stacking against it. The story structure is just a mess. With an extended “origin story” for Black Adam, there’s no mystery or surprise for the character. Pay close attention early and virtually all hero and villain character surprises are spoiled long before their reveal. When the villain shows up I knew it was the villain and it was a painfully long wait well into the second act before he revealed his true identity - that we already knew about because we saw the opening of the movie. So when the film feels like it’s over, it has to reboot itself for a very rushed and unfulfilling third-act finale. After that is the clumsy stabs at comedy complete with a kid trying to teach Black Adam comedic catchphrases… yeah didn’t need that. Then there’s the big blue, red, and yellow mid-credits elephant in the room with the return of Cavill as Superman. This was a lynchpin of the film’s marketing that does little and sadly will no longer go anywhere.
Also, I hated this film’s music choices. The score is great, I loved the score, but the songs were bad choices. From Smashing Pumpkins’ Bullet with Butterfly Wings to the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black to Ennio Morricone’s The Trio from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - it was just obnoxiously on the nose and then just plain boring. The slow-mo action scene with Paint it Black looked like it could have been exciting, but with that song, it was just eye-rolling. If there’s one potentially good thing about James Gunn’s involvement with DC it’s that he can show when and how to Michael Mann a film and appropriately use pop culture tunes for action scenes.
While I’ve spent the last paragraph or two dunking on it, I don’t hate Black Adam. There are enough entertaining pieces and the solid cast holds the show together through those pitfalls. Wonder Woman 1983 and the theatrical Justice League are far worse DCEU films than this one. With all the recent hoopla, the biggest shame of the film is that if we ever see Johnson as Black Adam again, it won’t likely be any time soon, and then apparently as of the rumors and reporting coming out today (12/21/22), not a part of the Gunn/Safran-fronted DC Universe. As the ever-patient and understanding and not reactionary in any way comic fans that we are, we’ll just have to wait and see what comes next without rushing to judgment, needlessly speculating in blog posts based on noting or running our mouths off on social media with every unconfirmed detail.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Black Adam escapes from his tomb to take over 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a new two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital release from Warner Brothers. All discs are region-free - the 4K is a BD-66 disc with the 1080p version picking up a BD-50 disc. The discs are housed in a standard two-disc black case without being stacked with identical slipcover artwork.
NOTE - All images are sourced from the 1080p Blu-ray, wasn't able to rip the 4K disc for images or video clips at this time.
Black Adam zaps 4K with an impressive 2160p Dolby Vision HDR transfer. Apparently finished on a native 4K digital intermediate - details are very often stunning. Every little facial feature, grizzled beard hair, scar, and rough scorched detail in the costumes is ready for inspection. I particularly loved all the textures and accents to Johnson’s Black Adam suit - and for his incredible devotion to the character, you can tell there’s little if any padding to that suit. Likewise, the details in the costumes for Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher earn extra care and attention.
The Dolby Vision HDR grade is strong allowing for deep inky blacks with amazing spectral highlights. That first scene when Black Adam takes on the mercenaries in the temple, it’s the perfect blend of deep blacks, shadows, and bright white light with the glowing orange lightning bold that makes 4K HDR an exciting format. And when the action sequences look their best, this transfer holds up beautifully. But, with the added resolution and HDR, the cheaper the CGI effect, the more obviously weightless it becomes. This is usually a problem with some of the heavier CGI backgrounds and sets. You can practically see the line where the physical set ends and the digital backdrop begins. But that’s really the only knock I have here. Primaries get some lovely attention with healthy saturation and no one in the cast ever looks over-saturated or too “orange” as has been a growing issue with some releases. Whites - especially during the flashbacks - are bright and bold without blooming or blasting out the screen. My CGI nitpicks aside, this is one hell of a great transfer.
Even more impressive than the transfer I’d say is the wall-to-wall Atmos audio track. From the front/center channels to the heights, sides, and rears, this mix is action-packed stuff. There’s rarely a quiet moment in the film and even when the action stops to have a nice conversation in an apartment, there’s plenty of background and activity to keep those channels running for a fully-immersive near-demo-worthy presence. While I may not have cared for the Paint it Black music choice, that action sequence is a prime example of how all of the channels fire away with the subs punching the LFE to rattle the walls. Throughout dialog is clean and clear without issue. Lorne Balfe delivers another terrific action-focused score that has some beautiful superhero melodies for each character. All around this is a fantastic Atmos mix you’ll want to crank up the volume for - but you don’t really need to because levels are spot on. Loud just sounds better!
While we’re not given a huge assortment of extras to work with, what we have here is a pretty decent selection of tidbits and EPK materials. Each respective featurette is pretty brief and doesn’t spend a lot of time on the particular topic, but collectively there are enough little nuggets worth picking through. None of the extras are on the 4K disc and all sit with the 1080p version of the film.
Not the worst, not the best, Black Adam may well be one of the last entries of the DCEU that started with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. It’s been a bumpy road getting here, to say the least, and now with recent behind-the-scenes happenings, this would-be franchise may be stopped dead in its magical tracks. To Gunn and Safran’s credit, they’re keeping their plans (for the most part) close to the vest. And in the world of comic books and their cinematic counterparts - in crisis anything is possible. On its own, Black Adam was a clunky but ultimately entertaining film. Sure, it could have been a lot better, but by no means is it the worst DC comic flick ever made - I’m looking at you Steel. As a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release - it’s pretty frickin’ impressive. Even with some dodgy CGI effects, the 4K Dolby Vision HDR transfer is stunning and the Atmos track has all the punch and presence for a grand superhero adventure. Toss in some decent little bonus features and you have a slick flick for the collection. Recommended