A Black Adam movie review. Whilst at the same time an Analysis of the Underlying Archetypes Black Adam represents.
[HEAVY SPOILER ALERT]
Couple announcements, this year (2022) I’ve been returning back to films, almost wanted to call it cinema – as to give it some fancyass highbrow connotation lol – but no just films, because who cares what other people think, I was feeling it, my gut was saying to me, give your brain some rest, f it, consume something you like, instead of just creating the whole time (live by 80/20 rule tho, create 80%, consume 20%). It was apparent on the Twitter timeline, the threads now gone tho, but I gave some random musings about Doctor Strange 2, Spiderman 3: No way home, The Northman, Thor 4: Love and Thunder, and Top Gun: Maverick (might’ve missed one, dont matter). Point of it, is that I’ve watched 1300+, might be 1400+ now, movies in my life, and I grew up with it – that’s why my English is the way it is, and why I have some affinity with a more oldschool idyllic Americanized Hollywood bs fantasy of life (for another time).
But as I gotten older, got to thinking, why the f should I watch movies? They usually aren’t That good anymore. But then it struck me, as I had just finished my latest (9th; if you discount Tw work, 6th) book, I’m a writer, pur sang (in blood). An author. A storyteller. “Every writer is a reader, not every reader is a writer.”
And every storyteller is a storycraver; he loves stories. And narratives. And sure, there’s something to be said about classics and just dipping into the traditionalism of it all; but there’s something about seeing The New, the Modern; and in this case Hollywood – there’s something about seeing them try, that makes it fresh, and if it’s not fresh, it’s new dopaminergic stimulation, as my hedonistic adapting brain loves, which provides novel stimuli, which one can synthesize and then you always come up with new juice in the end. You know, I have written about how to craft stories, but like they always say skin in the game, haven’t really unleashed it on a passion I’ve had/hidden. Films. And I’ve only, on this blog, written one movie review. And I feel I can do way way better. I’ve written more. More books. But also more reviews, more blogposts, more emails, more pieces. More mileage. And I’ve grown more and learned more, embodying the writer role more and more.
And because I’ve been writing, and thinking and thinking about Authenticity, like I’ve said, I think I found an angle, almost like an excuse tbh, to watch these films, selfishly for myself; to learn, to grow, to get feedback for my life from film – I can watch these films and think why does this work – in terms of the Five Pillars of Authenticity, and specifically why is the Main Protagonist SOOOO Authentic, what makes him tick, and there the “actionable” lessons can be mixed with the more artistic musings and curation and just reviewing of a film.
I watched Black Adam and the whole time, during the film, but a lot before it, a lot a lot, I was thinking, Why do I want to see it? Why do I resonate with the narrative; why with the character/Archetype Black Adam? Along the way I found out. Read along with me, as I came to that conclusion, with lessons about archetypal nature.
[LAST CHANCE; HEAVY SPOILER ALERT FOR BLACK ADAM; NO HOLDS BARRED FROM HERE ON]
[Per usual, my review will follow a chronological linear fashion, from the First Act to the Last. As that is how my notes were taking; yes I take notes. Sometimes I hark back to certain topics, motifs and themes, to tie it all together in some kind of loose arc. Big themes, or ways of reviewing are first: I run any kind of art through the diagnostic tool of the Three aristotelian principles (blog maybe inbound; wrote a thread about it the other day, cant plug because I update it often, etc). And something I learned reviewing pieces and books during my writing group days: we discussed what we liked, didn’t like, what didn’t make sense, and what we didn’t believe.]
First Act and Archetypes
The first act opens straight into Khandaq, where the whole movie takes place. And what’s funny is that a modern movie, comic book movie, needs Traditional Ancient props and narrative devices and themes and story elements to be able to cater and offer some kind of substance. Black Adam goes with the Egyptian theme (just like Shazam its spiritual predecessor). In the aforementioned threads, I came to the jarring conclusion that modern day Hollywood either lacks substance completely, or always just a little bit; they need to have at its core some kind of paganistic theme; or about Gods; or any faith; or magic; or ancient stories; or they always have nostalgic music, 60s, 70s, 80s, always to give you that hit of Nostalgia (cue Don Draper Ad speech to get you hooked on their supply) – Thing is, We all know what’s happening in this Zeitgeist, and the Spiritual Depletion that is taking place. And people need something to be filled up with. And Hollywood gets this, like nobody else and ties it back to old Nostalgic relics, mimetic, or music (can be seen in the brother of the female lead, Adrianna, played by Shahar shahi, who has an oldschool VW van, the beetle I think, and he plays casettes and sings along to the Baby come back song
– which from a cinema technique pov reminds me of two films. The Martian. And the Guardians of the Galaxy, GOTG (1 and 2). Both these movies have a scope that is larger than life, extraterrestial, and with these literal space opera scapes you need something to create a juxtaposition with that and to create this tension. Disco music is perfect for that. Or the Golden Oldies in GOTG – which Black Adam does very well too. The reason it works is because it is surprising, offkilter, contrasting, light and fluffy and feel-good and nostalgic, offsetting the serious nature of the narrative and plot and characters.
Black Adam plays heavy with Archetypes. Djimon Honsou, the Sorcerer who gave Shazam (back in 2020?) his powers is back. But there are other more covert archetypes. From the first thirty minutes the following is seen:
-The (Evil/Tyrant) King
Those were the most easiest to spot. And they, like motifs, well as the lifeline of the movie, kept recurring throughout. And with them we go on their “Hero’s” Journey. Hero is within parenthesis, you’ll find out why soon. But what’s also very clear, if you seen some promo footage is that Black Adam is very much NOT a hero, but more categorized as the Anti Hero.
After the movie and its plot are set, to be spectacular, full of magic, and otherworldly, director Jaume Collet-Serra does a classic cinema trick and brings it down to a smaller group of people. It’s more intimate, more real, and more RELATABLE, that’s the name of the game in these big blockbuster movies. Because (most, most I say!) people dont have a big fat imagination and cant from the very start relate with something as bombastic, powerful, godly as a Black Adam Demi God character (OP much..). Therefore, directors, like in Jurassic Park/World movies, or King Kong, or Godzilla, or Whedon did the same trick also I think with a van and a family during the climax of the Justice League movie, like to keep it small and real and with just a small group of people you follow from start till end, so that you dont lose sight of the narrative, and the arcs being built. And the leads are then Adrianna, aforementioned and her brother.
Musical Intermezzo: Black Adam OST
When I was younger, I NEVER noticed anything of the score. But it was all rendering in the background, in my subconscious. As I gotten older I found that I liked some movies MORE than others, and it was because of the OST, original soundtrack, the score. And I now make it a hobby, obsession really, to check out the music, who made it, and how, and why was this song chosen there and there, and why did it or didn’t it work for the movie.
I like the music for Black Adam. Lemme tell you why. The first moment Black Adam is released from his tomb (later we find out it was his prison..) the OST really ramps up and we first hear the theme of Black Adam. And it literally, sonically, sets the tone. For him, as a character, his arc, the Anti Hero Journey/Villain Journey and the way he interacts with the other characters.
*Fury puts on OST to get in the right groove*
Found the right song: It’s called The Awakening. Aptly. When that song came on, it became spooky. It was a dark dank cave. And the lightning, was pretty neat. As Black Adam zapped everyone with his lightning, lighting up the cave. Here, forgot to mention it earlier, the chops of someone like Jaume Collet-Serra starts to showcase, had to look it up, but he has Blockbuster experience. Done Jungle Cruise with The Rock already and another one. So the movie, with all its massive set pieces and CGI will do okay, and it did, all the way till the end. (Some directors can’t handle a big blockbuster movie and that’s okay, but it completely ruins the movie because it implodes because it’s all too much to juggle and the Director really needs to steer a narrative out of there).
The motifs in The Awakening are there in all the other themes. They sound very similar. Dark. Edgy. Rock and roll. Almost metal. Heck, they even played it paint it black during a massive slow mo action scene after Black Adam busts out of the cave.
Deifying a Character with Shots and Acting
Lemme draw a parallel, from one of my favorite television characters: Tommy Shelby. He never eats, he never sleeps, he never drinks. Right? Think about it. If this was a first for you, now you know. Not to sound smart or anything, but lemme tell you why. It’s to make Thomas larger than life, that’s why we love em. A hero, almost. A Demi-God, big big theme in S5 and S6, questioning his mortality. Which brings us back to Black Adam. The guy is a Demi God, we see his kryptonite is magic and eternium, however there’s zero doubt whatsoever that he’s struggling with mortality, it’s not even a theme, it’s not in his headspace, it’s not part of his arc. (He is however struggling with worthiness, the classic hero theme, and with his identity, and the big questions, What does it mean to be a hero? Am I hero? Etc..). Black Adam NEVER sits down during the whole 2h40m runtime, until the very last scene, of the finale, which says something. Which says a lot. I’ll get to that, why and where he sits down. Black Adam never eats, drinks. He doesn’t do human stuff, because he’s not a human.
And the way the camera shoots him doubles down on deifying Dwayne. Center shots. Or over his shoulder and then his big head consuming the whole space of the shot and that’s how he wakes up in the kid’s bedroom for example. He always takes up more than 2 /3 of the screen, with face shots. He’s never out of frame. Not one single time during the film, and I didn’t really keep count (quote me wrong on this one, lol, was too busy trynna enjoy myself, too), but you just felt his power throughout the film, cinematography wise.
Finally, the way the actor’s looked at him. And especially during the Awakening part in the cave, the camera pointing at their faces, and the tone of their voices (whispering), they were scared shitless. This was pretty decent acting for a typical hollywood movie imho, or just classic hollywood horror stuff wouldnt know not a big fan of that, but I just felt it was a bit of extra, from a psychological pov, like why am I feeling this tension from the character Black Adam – other than his powers, physique, framing, acting – EXTRA was the WAY the others Acted around him. (read till last part, how another character acts very different around him..)
MacGuffin, Waller, and Fate
The plot was simple. And had a classic MacGuffin (google is yo friend if you dont know what it is), which was the crown. It propels the story forward from start till end. And like Chekov’s principle, mention a gun on the wall in the first act, you have to shoot it, in the finale. The crown gets mentioned, and used alright. And the movie, this larger massive thing with all these characters and set pieces NEEDS one simple thing to move the story along, around which all the characters not only evolve, but also revolve, from a plot pov. (more on this in my storytelling course SAGA link).
Waller makes a big appearance, which ties this movie to the Suicide Squade movies, and makes it part of the DCEU. She hires the JSA, Justice Society of America, which is a first for the DCEU, and as a longtime fan, as a kid, this is cool to see. However, big minus point, they do not get enough screentime, FOR to flesh out their characters, and thus their lines and their acting, their sacrifices (read till end for ultimate) all fall bit flat. Sad to see.
Especially super hero Doctor Fate. Damn, when I heard this I just knew I had to see the movie, personally. Might be sound like I’m nerding out, but if you know a bit about DC, you know how cool the Helmet of Fate is. Guy can see the future, and this was a nice touch to the movie. It didn’t just become a Black Adam movie, it became a JSA, Fate, DC movie. Which in the end made it all too much to handle, tbh, but big big time fan service and rofl Idgaf I like that. And when I heard my man Pierce Brosnan was playing Kent, Dr. Fate, I knew I HAD to see it. (just realized I got so excited, lol, that I can’t go too much into Dr. Fate in this movie, would maybe nice for a revisit, or if I have a new angle – or else the post would be ginormous.). Brosnan I know and love from his tenure on the James Bond Franchise. Were it not for the over the top, and clunky script writing, his tenure would’ve been legendary. I’ve had this discussion with many Bond lovers. They’re like, Hey you’re right. He’s a great Bond, too bad about the movies. Dr. Fate is like the Sage archetype. Or Scholar. Or Right Hand man. Bit like Yoda. Because he gives life advice, lol, left and right throughout the movies.
But give he wears the Helmet of Fate, there’s something cooler, much deeper, and much more powerful going on. He plays the role/archetype of Seer. (like Cassandra in the Trojan War). A prophet. He can see the Future, and spoiler, all the way to the end, he’s also able to CHANGE the Future, that’s massive. Not to dive too deep in esotericism, and occultism, but this is a powerful archetype that should at least be mentioned.
What makes Black Adam Authentic?
Let’s dive right into the meat of this piece, just like how I did with the Diaz piece.
Funny thing is, I was running this checklist in my head, and it’s as if almost ALL superheroes, or villains lol, pass the Authenticity checklist of the Five Pillars of Authenticity, lets check it for Black Adam:
1 Originality. The way I described it in my book. As in incorruptible in regards to one’s origin. Black Adam is that to the TEE. He’s extremely nationalistic, patriotic. Love for mother/fatherland. It’s insane. “Not your people, not your country.” – a huge theme throughout the film. And because he stands for something, a country, for someone, the people, you start to love him, quite fast.
2 Sincerity. You know he’s lying. He’s a really really bad liar. And the slightly reckless and callous me could relate. He’s so direct that it becomes dangerous. He doesn’t tiptoe around and lives and acts according to his own truth. The JSA put ultimatums on him, and the soldiers who are fighting against him, but he’s not having any of it.
3 Authority. He’s a super powerful meta human. A demi god. No one can beat him, and that’s clear, and he needs to turn himself in, to be stopped. This man is a walking, breathing authority. And because he knows this, perfectly, embodies it, act according to it, this makes him very authentic.
4 Insanity. Like I said with his code in protecting his country and legacy of it, you can tell he’s hardcore. Almost insane. And the way he kills people left and right. You know he’s dedicated to the cause – well HIS cause, and it goes so far others are saying he’s insane, crazy, lunatic, killer, not a hero, etc – and he knows this.
5 Divinity. His powers are given by the Gods. And thus he is a conduit for the Divine. And thus his being is quite powerful every second he’s on the silver screen.
Black Adam and his Archetypes
Cinema loves to juxtapose the fierce savage with the Kid archetype. The young girl next to Wolverine in the Logan movie e.g. Here they do it again, the Kid is the foil for the softness, vulnerability, weakness of Black Adam. And in a sense, mirrors his long lost late son. If Black Adam’s character would be more wellrounded it is because of what the Kid on the skateboard, son of Adrianna, makes him flesh out; draws it out of him, and you can see that in their very first interaction. Kid juxtaposes Black Adam with the Justice League, all the posters in the room; and he asks if he’s faster than the Flash. The kid, similar to what we talked about in terms of narrative/cinema plot devices, is trying to make Black Adam human, humanize him, make him understandable, and less distant, intelligible, so that we can try to begin to relate to him. Try.
Reason why brought up the kid is that like in a classic trope of kid teaching anti hero to be good – he says Black Adam needs to change his Name Teth Adam – its too outdated – the changing of the name/ramming home the catchphrase signal the catharsis is made the process is done, from being not knowing who he is, into knowing who he is and what he stands for – he wants Adam to adopt the catchphrase, Tell them the Man in Black send you.
Which brings us down another Archetypal rabbithole, and or tangent. Tbh its part of the Archetypal narrative, the full picture and thus it must be mentioned. The Man in Black is indicative of the Lone Rider. Aka the Cowboy, with whom they’re trying to equate Black Adam. The scene where he wakes up and storms into the living, there’s a TV on, and a movie playing, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is on. It goes fast, and one at first might think it’s just for fun and games, the way he zaps the TV kaput, but couple scenes later Black Adam is in the center of Khandaq, and he’s pitting against two to three goons, with rifles, in a kinda Mexican Standoff. Aka a COWBOY standoff. This is done on purpose. If something happens once, it’s coincidence, if it’s done a minimum of two times, it’s on Purpose. To completely dissect the Good, The Bad and The Ugly would require a seperate piece alltogether, but we can definitely say that the Man in Black in That movie is most def not the Hero. The Bad. But the Good, if you think about it isn’t per se also Clint Eastwood’s character, especially if you’ve seen the movie. Eastwood his Blondie is somewhat of an anti-hero, like Black Adam. So the similarities are all over the place. From an aesthetic point of view, he’s most like the Man in Black Cowboy, with the catchphrase reference by the kid, and the song Paint it Black played during one fight montage. But from an ethical point of view, he’s quite like Eastwood’s Blondie.
Furthermore, the Lone rider archetype is close to the Outcast. The Shaman. The one who gets ostracized and kicked out of society outside of the pale. This is very similar to how they entombed Black Adam. He’s like the Pariah. And truly the whole movie he operates all by himself.
Later he teams up with the JSA, however, at the end, during the climax he finds himself quite like in a Stand-off, a bit similar like the Good, Bad, and Ugly climax tbh.
The Slave versus King dichotomy was also prevalant as a theme throughout the movie. It is revealed during the climax that Black Adam was a slave and that his son too was a slave and that freedom was something he craved, and his son fought for it, leading the revolt. And this was so important for him. That it ended up costing his life. It’s insane how this sacrifice instilled this maniacal fury within Black Adam, that till the end pushes his decisions forward. The Slave, revolting against authority never left Adam, and the whole time when JSA forces him to do xyz, ofcourse he’s going to say no. “A slave doesn’t bow,” Black Adam says. Every decision Adam makes during the movie is embodying the Rebel, the slave who broke free and never wants to be imprisoned again. And the Tyrannical oppressive king is the evil king trying to take over the world. And in this sense the whole movie is about a battle of wills. And being one’s authentic self to the max. To the detriment of self, others, and country. And planet.
Final note on archetypes. Reading from the notes a bit: “Only a woman can subdue a God.” What do I mean by that? The whole movie, NO one is able to make Black Adam submit, physically. Externally. Not by their powers, not by their magic, nothing. However, if you look careful, at Sarah Shahi’s character, the Mother archetype, the Woman, and in a sense the Siren, she seduced Black Adam, throughout the whole narrative, with her feminine ease and charm and comfort and softness and pleading, to do her bidding. Her child needs her, she needs Black Adam. And he listens. From the second he’s freed, he owes her, yes, from a code of conduct, from Adam’s personal credo of honor, yes, he owes her a debt, but what he does the remainder of the film – if the crown was a MacGuffin that pushes the film forward; the kid was very much so, too – is take orders/requests/demands from Adrianna. And it was in the spaceship where everyone is butting heads, where Adrianna (that was her codename btw) points at Black Adam and says, Save my son. He listens. This God listens. And that’s when I wrote down that note. And that’s when I realized, A true woman, embodying her feminine archetype has such an authentic force that is outside of this realm. It’s tapped into the divine and there she can not only be in the same room as a God, but also make him do his bidding.
The Final Act as an Appendix
From a cinema technical standpoint, from the main narrative and its arcs, the movie was done when Black Adam turns himself in to the JSA and they bring him to an underwater supermax ran by Waller. There was legit a cathartic moment in the movie that every moviegoer could feel. But they fucked it up, by taping on the last part. The appendix. This was to bring the Super Villain alive, and make him wear the crown, so we could have one last final bossfight. From a linear storytelling point of view this was super unnecessary. Because Black Adam already made the final redeeming part of his (Anti) Hero’s Journey. BUT, this made me realize something fascinating.
Where the Hero’s journey ends, the Villain’s journey starts.
Black Adam rides off into the sunset. So we think. It is only THEN that the True Villain is exposed and arises. This, if one looks deeper into the character arc of Black Adam, has so many implications (which this is not the place to dive into). But it’s as if a NEW journey starts, that Adam really needed. And so it goes, and one last time they all fight. And Dr. Fate has to sacrifice himself to save the world, and get Black Adam out of the supermax facility. Fate alters the timeline; saving Hawkman’s life. And the planet’s. Black Adam gets free and fights the Big Bad Evil King with the crown on and in the climax says the line: “I’m not a hero.”
And in a sense, the Villain was needed to come to the realization of this. It is only in this fight that Black Adam can say it. He can be it. Or rather not be a hero.
What is he then? Who is he then? The final scene showcases that. As he sits on the Throne. And he doesn’t even acknowledge that. He doesn’t really want to be the Champion too. And he smashes the throne. They ask him his name, and he just affirms what the kid said, since he unleashed the catchphrase already, Tell them the Man in Black send you, and he split the King in two, that the Teth Adam name is old and he needs a new one, now it’s the final step into become his full authentic self. He is Black Adam.
And then the title roll comes. And shows the Name in BIG.
But then the midscene credits come. And Waller threatens Black Adam. And then Henry Cavill aka SUPERMAN pops up. Usually I’d say this is just worldbuilding and franchise and just hype and fanservice and just making everyone go oooooh shit, they gonna fight. HOWEVER, what was super uncanny, and fitting, was the juxtaposition of Black Adam, and Superman. From an archetypal nature point of view. There’s nobody more embodying of the Hero Archetype than Superman. And thus, and thus the cameo of Superman FITS. It’s not just a cameo. It’s an addendum, an extension of the Narrative.