Question for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson: What happened, dude? How does "Black Adam, your passion project for the DC Extended Universe, finally hit theaters as such a chaotic mess? The script falters, confusion reigns, and you're left holding the bag for an epic failure to launch.
Of course, no movie with Johnson, one of the most likable hulks in Hollywood's action industrial complex, can be a total loss. You want to root for the guy, no matter how hard "Black Adam" douses his movie-star magnetism and mischievous humor in a glum muddle of global politics.
"Black Adam" is an origin story that definitely does need an introduction. A prologue tells us that 5,000 years ago in fictional, Middle Eastern Kahndaq, Teth Adam (Johnson) -- a former slave who shoots lightning from his fingers thanks to helpful wizards who provide additional superpowers -- was held captive for killing first and asking questions later.
Before you can say "SHAZAM" -- an acronym of the immortals Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury -- a freedom-fighting professor named Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) inadvertently releases Adam, whose attitude problem has grown as big as his biceps, into present-day Kahndaq where her skateboarding, livewire son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) takes him in hand.
Don't confuse Adam with the cuddlebug in spandex that Zachary Levi embodied in the DCEU's 2019 "Shazam." The Rock is playing an anti-hero with no intention of going soft, especially on Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari), a Kahndaq traitor with a god complex.
Feeling numb from all these characters in search of a plot? Sorry, it's just the beginning. Viola Davis shows up as Amanda Waller, the Task Force X leader who intends to wrangle Adam for her own purposes, which include fighting off the evil Intergang, a criminal organization hellbent on seizing the legendary crown of Sabbaq, a power force allegedly sculpted by demons.
And I haven't even mentioned the Intergang-hating Justice Society of America, which includes the winged Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), the wizard-like Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), the aptly-named Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), a kid who turns into a giant.
"Black Adam" feels like an elaborate setup for a franchise no one's made any plans to film. Worse, it sidelines the 270 pounds of charisma that is Johnson, who still bulldozes through the film like a human muscle car but is deprived of the wicked sass that this 50-year-old son of a Black father and Samoan mother has been generating since his days as a pro wrestler.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who guided Johnson through the nonsense of "Jungle Cruise," has mysteriously dialed down his star's trademarked joie de vivre. Just as Intergang wants to drain Kahndaq of its natural resource, Eternium, Collet-Serra drains Johnson of his natural exuberance by making him a posterboy for anger management.
"Black Adam" pulls out all the eyepopping digital stops, but to what end when Collet-Serra's main attempt to freshen up the action is to film it in slow motion? Please.
In interviews, Johnson insists he ultimately wants Black Adam to battle it out with Superman. "That's the whole point of all this," he said.
Does that mean the present movie we're meant to pump up at the box office is also meant to leave us awash in pointless filler? You be the judge.