Ian Thomas Malone

dc comics Archive



October 2022



Black Adam can’t overcome its atrocious screenplay

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Part of the beauty of the Justice Society of America in the nearly forty years since the genre-defining comic book crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths” erased their home planet Earth-2, itself largely a creation designed to differentiate older Golden Age heroes from their more modern Silver Age counterparts, was the way that the team came together to fight the good fight even as the world had largely passed them by. There’s something inherently relatable in watching more obscure, less powerful heroes battle back the tides of time and their own declining relevance. Ironically, given the frantic explosion-laden extravaganza that defines Black Adam’s attempt at a narrative, the JSA represented a quieter time for superhero storytelling.

Superhero filmmaking has come to embrace the obscure, making household names of characters such as the Peacemaker or the Guardians of the Galaxy that few people outside of diehard comic fans would have heard of just ten years ago. Characters like Black Adam and the JSA don’t completely fit under this bill, having achieved mainstream success back in the 1940s, but the idea that Shazam/Captain Marvel’s archnemesis’ live-action debut would come through a solo effort lacking Billy Batson entirely is still a bit hard to believe. The champion of Kahndaq has straddled the lines between villain and antihero for years, a fascinating, sly figure ripe for the greying morality of the post-9/11 era.

Dwayne Johnson has largely avoided villain-type roles throughout his career. His approach to Black Adam displays a puzzling amount of apprehension toward playing an antihero as well. The Kahndaq that Teth-Adam is awakened into is occupied by a force called the Intergang, which the film essentially presents as a Blackwater-type oppressive military force with an ill-defined mandate in the complex geopolitics of the Middle East. Leaning heavily into antipathy, Johnson’s best effort to sell Adam’s reluctance to rid the Intergang with a snap of the finger is the fact that he’s been asleep too long to care anymore, a lazy excuse indicative of Black Adam’s larger shortcomings as a film.

Black Adam squanders the DCEU’s meatiest moral quandary with an atrocious script hellbent on saying absolutely nothing interesting about its narrative or stacked roster of characters. It’s quite astonishing how boring this movie really is. Johnson’s wooden performance is largely a hodgepodge of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax the Destroyer mixed with T2-era Terminator, a god with too much power that sucks the soul out of his film.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has no idea how to balance the film’s large cast of characters. The rapport between the JSA is established at breakneck speed, veterans Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) are joined by newcomers Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), an awkward team dynamic, especially in a movie serving as an origin story to a completely different character. Black Adam spends much of the film alongside his liberators, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), and brother Karim (Mohammed Amer), a bloated collection of protagonists that leaves little room for the film’s breathtakingly underwhelming villain.

The humor in the film is largely a derivative mess, Johnson stumbling over his badly written lines whenever he tries to crack a joke. Brosnan is the only actor present with an understanding of the comedy he’s expected to deliver. Hodge delivers the best performance of the film, working quite well off Johnson and Brosnan, though the film suffers from its emotional overreliance on Carter Hall in a narrative that’s supposed to be Black Adam’s moment to shine. The decent CGI is rendered moot by the lifeless fight choreography, a further waste of Johnson’s immense talents as one of the most dynamic performers in the history of professional wrestling.

The politics of Kahndaq are the film’s biggest failing. The narrative comes close to hinting that it wants to take a side against America’s propagation of the military-industrial complex, a game of footsie that it never follows through on. Further puzzling the situation is the presence of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), whose efforts in service to the exact same cause were scrutinized in last year’s The Suicide Squad. There is not much difference between Waller’s antics in that movie and the Intergang here, not that anyone working at DC appears to notice or care. After years of Zack Snyder’s Ayn Rand ramblings soiling the DCEU, it’s a little disheartening to see such a waffling from a film that clearly understands its lead’s anti-imperialist ethos.

Black Adam is a disheartening failure for the DCEU. Johnson embodies the awe and wonder Black Adam evokes, but he doesn’t do any interesting with his subject. There’s nothing at the core of this film besides tropes and plot holes, a predictable third act that unravels the film’s earlier tight pacing. The JSA is brought to life with obvious love, though clearly established with the intention of setting up their own spinoff down the road.

It’s a sad kind of train wreck to watch. Words are easy things to write. We shouldn’t live in a world where expensive blockbusters are completely undone by atrocious screenplays. Black Adam has plenty of talent and first-rate special effects, neither of which can cover up just how bad this screenplay truly is. The studio executives should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this easy layup to go completely off the rails.



March 2022



The Batman honors The Dark Knight’s humble origins as The World’s Greatest Detective

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Batman has earned his fair share of nicknames since his 1939 debut. Film has made plenty of time for the parts of Bruce Wayne’s persona that fit monikers like “The Caped Crusader” or “The Dark Knight,” but cinematic depictions of Batman rarely center on the work that earned him the title of “The World’s Greatest Detective.” DC Comics itself owes its name to the impact of its flagship title, Detective Comics, where Gotham’s first son cut his teeth on procedural work rather than punching matches with superpowered villains.

Director Matt Reeves finally provides Batman with a noir mystery fit for the man’s reputation. A Halloween-themed series of murders by The Riddler (Paul Dano) leaves a trail of clues for Batman (Robert Pattinson) and James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to follow, hoping to foil the puzzle master’s grander ambitions.  The Riddler sets his sights on Gotham’s elite, hoping to snuff out of the corruption of Gotham’s political institutions and police department at the hands of organized crime, particularly Carmine Falcone (John Turturo) and his right-hand man Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), better known as The Penguin.

The world does not need another Batman origin story, but Reeves breathes so much life into the early days of the Detective’s early career. Set about two years into his mission, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is not the “billionaire playboy” often depicted on screen. Bruce is hardly much of a person at all, a shell of a man struggling to find his identity outside of the costume, much to the chagrin of his butler and confidant Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis).

Reeves strikes closer to the core of Batman’s ethos than any other live-action depiction, a noir mystery ripe for Gotham’s murky confines. Bruce Wayne lives his life based on a vow he made in the wake of unimaginable horror, before he was even a teenager. There’s a certain absurdity to that reality that Batman films are reluctant to explore. Batman is not someone to idolize, forever doomed to his unwinnable war against crime. He is less a hero than an addict.

Pattinson puts forth an absolutely delicious performance. Carrying the weight of uncertainty that hangs over most thirty-somethings trying to find their places in the world, his Bruce chases the high of crime-fighting while slowly grappling with the reality that life cannot be sustained by mere thrills alone. While the film offers Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) as a potential romantic interest, Batman’s true love in the film is James Gordon, the sole cop to buy into his vigilante mission, not yet the commissioner that Gotham needs him to be.

The film moves with a breezy pace through an overstuffed 176-minute runtime. While Farrell and Turturo make the most of limited screen time to establish their mob underworld, Kravitz barely gets a chance to make her mark as Catwoman, lacking Kyle’s signature suave sense of confidence. While Reeves is clearly saving some powder for future sequels, the third act is far too lackadaisical in its delivery, excessively circling the runway before the credits finally roll.

While all of the principals deliver top-notch performances, Dano’s Riddler begs for a larger piece of the pie than Reeves is ever willing to offer. The overstuffed cast of villains denies its meatiest player much of a role, an interesting take on the idea of less being more. Dano absolutely crushes every single second of his screen time. Batman villains are often defined by excess, but Dano delights in a minimalist take that finds genuine terror in his grounded reflection of reality.

The Batman is a triumph for comic book diehards. Reeves treats his source material with such obvious affection. His depiction of Gotham isn’t quite as cartoonish as Burton’s beautiful sets, nor overly reflective of the real world like Nolan’s. Reeves’ Gotham has a distinct sense of ugliness to its grit, the kind of careful consideration that colorists strive to maintain on each page. There is no “singular” take on Batman, whether on screen or in the comics, but Reeves is clearly striving to be counted among the many artists who have built up Detective Comics over its more than one thousand issues.

Bruce Wayne forever tries to hide his own vulnerability, while never really growing out of the child who watched his own parents’ murder in Crime Alley. Pattinson wears that anguish with every expression, a rare sensitivity sheathed from most leading men in blockbuster films. The world could use with more vulnerability from its costumed adventures. The Batman is a powerful show of force for the genre, displaying the artistic heights one can achieve when deviating from the cookie-cutter formula. You don’t need a shared universe, not when there’s a perfectly good story to soak up the runtime.



October 2021