Despite all the brickbats DC’s cinematic universe has received for trying to ape the Marvel cinematic universe or being too dark, they’ve had quite a brilliant run for the past few years. “Aquaman,” “Shazam,” “Birds of Prey,” “Joker,” “The Suicide Squad,” “Peacemaker,” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” all of which have been featured in my “best movies of the year” lists. “The Batman” is already slated to appear in the “best movies of 2022” list, alongside “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” And while Warner Brothers and DC go through a tumultuous time again, with movies and shows getting canceled left, right, and center, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is out here with “Black Adam.” Critics and viewers who have seen it have already given their verdict. And now we wait for the rest of the world to join the discourse. In the meantime, let’s talk about the themes and politics of “Black Adam” and why that mid-credits scene is instilling a sense of hope among fans of the DCEU.
Major spoilers ahead.
Kahndaq, King Anh-Kot, and Ishmael
As described in the opening expository sequence, Kahndaq used to be ruled by King Anh-Kot. He wanted to forge a crown out of a substance called Eternium, which existed in the grounds of Kahndaq. So, he enslaved his own people and forced them to dig up every piece of that mineral. Although a revolution against this injustice began, it soon died out when Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) raided Anh-Kot’s throne room and ended his reign. Although I couldn’t find any information on someone named Anh-Kot, there’s a character in DC called Ahk-Ton. He was given the Orb of Ra, which was made out of a meteorite discovered by an alchemist. It was supposed to be a symbol of peace. But Ahk-Ton misused it and turned himself into the villain Metamorpho. He ruled over Egypt, destroyed Kahndaq, and killed Teth-Adam’s family. That’s basically what Anh-Kot did in “Black Adam.” So, I am guessing he’s the DCEU’s adaptation of that character, and we’ll see him resurface as Metamorpho.
The people of Kahndaq have faced two kinds of oppression: the tyranny of Anh-Kot and the policing of the Intergang. But they have persevered through it all, and their presence is felt throughout “Black Adam.” After “Man of Steel,” there was a weird backlash against showing the people of the city where a colossal battle was taking place and the idea of setting a battle in a city at all. And that led to that bizarre final battle in “Batman v Superman,” where the characters kept reminding the audience that they were fighting in an uninhabited place. However, the fact of the matter is that seeing the people of a city, or a town gives it character and raises the stakes. Sam Raimi did it in all three of his “Spider-Man” movies. Jaume Collet-Serra does it too. Are you really going to tell me that when Atom Smasher protects the people, it doesn’t feel more superheroic than him running about some empty plot of land? Don’t you think the destruction of a city is to drive the point home that people with superheroic powers should handle themselves responsibly? Anyway, despite being fictional, Kahndaq feels more real than ninety percent of the real cities that serve as the base for many superhero movies and shows.
Out of all those Kahndaqi, we follow archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz, her brother Karim, her colleagues Samir and Ishmael, and her son Amon. As per the comics, Adrianna married Black Adam at one point and became the superhero, Isis. But in that iteration, Amon was her brother and became the superhero Osiris. So, “Black Adam” has clearly changed that up. But that doesn’t mean there’s no chance that Adam and Tomaz are going to be romantically involved and Karim is going to become a superhero. As for Tomaz’s son, Amon, it’s quite possible that he’ll become one of the members of the Shazam family because he has a heart of gold. Samir is the red herring, as it seems he’s the one who’s greedy for Eternium. However, it turns out that Ishmael is the big bad of this story and wants the Crown of Sabbac for himself. Why? Well, because he’s a descendant of Anh-Kot, and he wants to fulfill his destiny by ruling Kahndaq.
The Justice Society And The Intergang
The movie’s version of the Justice Society is made up of Carter Hall/Hawkman, Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate, Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone, and Albert “Al” Rothstein/Atom Smasher. This is their debut theatrical appearance and their first appearance in the DCEU as well. They are called to stop Black Adam by Amanda Waller, the government agent who handles Task Force X/The Suicide Squad. Kent describes himself as the Lord of Order. Maxine says that Fate’s helmet is from outer space, and it’s the helmet that chose him and him only as its wearer. If anyone else touches it, then they’ll be thrown into an endless nightmare. The helmet allows Fate to cast various spells, conjure weapons, create force shields, duplicate himself, and look into the future. Maxine’s blood apparently has “nanobytes,” which were injected into her by a mad scientist when she was 15, and that’s the source of her powers. Atom Smasher is capable of growing big. But he isn’t the first Atom Smasher. That’s Al Pratt (played by Henry Winkler). A lot isn’t revealed about Carter. But he’s clearly rich since he has a whole estate to himself and a massive jet that is indestructible. On top of that, he himself is pretty invincible, has metal wings, a powerful mace, and is overflowing with charisma.
In “Black Adam,” the Intergang is shown to be an invasive force that’s policing the people of Kahndaq and mining for Eternium to power their missiles and hoverbikes. In the comics, they get orders and weaponry from Darkseid (a character who has appeared in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”). During their “52” run, two of their members did interact with Black Adam, where they offered up Adrianna Tomaz as tribute in order to continue their smuggling activity, and they were instantly killed. But that’s the limit of Intergang’s interaction with Black Adam in the comics. The movies have made things personal for Adam, though, by putting a Khandaqi as the head of the organization, i.e., Ishmael. And, as mentioned before, Ishmael isn’t just any ordinary Khandaqi but the descendant of Anh-Kot himself. So, in a way, despite Anh-Kot’s death, his descendan found an indirect way to oppress the people of Khandaq. And in doing so, he proved that the penchant for tyranny can be passed down from one generation to another. It will only end when the bloodline reaches its finish line or when the place they want to rule over turns to nothing but dust. That said, you must be wondering why I put these two in the same section. To be honest, the answer is obvious.
Anh-Kot, Intergang, and Ishmael are clearly fascists. You don’t have to look too closely to come to that conclusion. But when you see how the people of Kahndaq react to the Justice Society, you realize that they see them as fascists too. It doesn’t matter how good the Justice Society’s intentions are. Because historically speaking, there aren’t any good examples of peace-keeping forces. They always say that they are there to liberate the people, and then they start setting up their camps there and become the new face of oppression. By the end, Fate understands all this and says that the time for white knights is gone, and Khandaq needs one of their own to be the face of liberation. In the movie, it is worded a little weirdly, but that’s what the writers essentially mean. So, surprisingly enough, this take on the white savior complex that superhero movies suffer from feels urgent because of the increasing popularity of the sub-genre and serves as an apology for the problematic use of that trope in “Wonder Woman 1984.”
Black Adam And Hurut
Talking about the “face of liberation,” “Black Adam” pulls off a twist that I didn’t see coming. Initially, we see a child leading a revolution against King Anh-Kot, being sent for execution, getting his powers from Shazam, and killing Anh-Kot while trying to stop him from using the Crown of Sabbac. When Teth-Adam is released from his tomb, everyone assumes that he’s that kid who became this superhero and that it’s his statue that looms over Kahndaq as a sign of gratitude and honor. But Teth-Adam keeps saying that he isn’t a hero, and he isn’t the liberator of Kahndaq while visiting that statue or looking at it from a distance. The truth eventually comes out when, in an attempt to save Amon from Ishmael, he nearly kills everyone by losing control of his powers, and he feels guilty for doing so. He tells Hawkman that his son Hurut is the kid who led the revolution and was given the powers of Shazam. However, when Anh-Kot attacked Teth-Adam and killed Shiruta, Hurut transferred the powers of Shazam to Teth-Adam to protect him.
Since this act left Hurut in a vulnerable state, Anh-Kot killed him. That’s what triggered Teth-Adam’s rage, and he raided Anh-Kot’s palace and killed everyone there. The wizards of Shazam deemed him unworthy of wielding their powers and imprisoned him in that cave. And after nearly killing the Justice Society, Adrianna, and Amon, he agrees to Hawkman’s demands and says “Shazam” to become a mere mortal again. Then he’s sent away to a maximum-security prison that belongs to Task Force X, where he’s supposed to stay in suspended animation so that he doesn’t utter the magic words ever again. I don’t know how everyone felt about this, but I thought it gave Black Adam a very melancholic touch. It recontextualizes the scenes where he floats in front of the statue of Kahndaq or just stares at it. Because he isn’t looking at an image of himself but of his son. Usually, in superhero movies, we see a child trying to step out of the shadow of their parents. In Black Adam’s case, it’s the complete opposite, as a father has to prove that he’s as good as or better than the man his son was.
On the surface, Black Adam surrendering himself seems like a fake-out because we know he’s going to come back. But at that moment, it felt like a huge character beat because he came to that decision after learning that there was nothing that could stop him. He could’ve just continued to pummel the Justice Society to death. Ishmael would’ve come back as Sabbac. And then he would’ve focused on him. However, by taking that little detour, the writers showed that there’s some humanity in Adam, and he’s willing to tap into it for Adrianna and Amon.
‘Black Adam’ Ending And Mid-Credits Explained: Why Does Black Adam Destroy The Throne of Kahndaq? Why Is Henry Cavill’s Cameo As Superman Important?
Ishmael kidnaps Amon and uses him to get the Crown of Sabbac. Left with no other choice, Adrianna goes with the Justice Society and Black Adam to hand the crown to him and get her son back. As soon as Ishmael gets the crown, he tries to kill Amon and activates the crown by saying, “Death is the only way to life” (the opposite of the inscription on the crown). Adam burns Ishmael and the crown and surrenders himself to the Justice Society for nearly killing Adrianna and Amon. While wondering about what Ishmael said, Adrianna realizes that he has purposefully allowed Adam to kill him so that he can go to hell and get the powers of Sabbac. Moments later, Ishmael wakes up as Sabbac and proceeds to Kahndaq to sit on the throne of Anh-Kot’s palace and rule over its people. Hawkman notices this and proceeds to meet him head-on. Fate says that if the whole Justice Society fights Sabbac, then it’s going to end with Hawkman’s death. So, he creates a forcefield around the palace and goes in by himself.
Before fighting Sabbac, Fate admits that he won’t be able to defeat him. Yet, he engages him while awakening Black Adam from his sleep by projecting himself in the Task Force X prison. Adam barely manages to escape the facility. Sabbac kills Fate, thereby causing the force field to collapse. Hawkman, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone try to take down Sabbac, but they fail. Adam finally says, “Shazam!” and flies out to finish Sabbac once and for all. However, Sabbac wounds Adam mortally. And when he’s on the brink of death, Hawkman creates a distraction with the help of Fate’s helmet and gives Adam the opportunity to tear Sabbac into two pieces, literally. Fate’s helmet dissolves. I assume that it’s going to reappear when it finds someone worthy. On that note, the Justice Society departs because they think that Adam is going to rule over Kahndaq now. But when he sits on that throne (recreating the iconic image of Black Adam from the comics), he says that it feels wrong. He says that Kahndaq isn’t a place that should be ruled because it has so many self-sufficient leaders, as proven by their ability to fight the undead (which were called by Sabbac). He thinks that Kahndaq only needs a protector, and that’s the role he’s going to take up.
Black Adam’s decision to be the protector of Kahndaq instead of its ruler feels like an extension of the conversation around Superman in “Batman v. Superman,” where people assumed that those who are all-powerful will rule over those who aren’t as powerful as them. He proves that being invincible and God-like doesn’t mean you have to be devoid of compassion and empathy. Adam has seen what tyranny did to Kahndaq, first through Anh-Kot’s rule and then through Intergang’s invasive practices. Hence, it would’ve been quite weird for him to do the same to several other families by sitting in the place that was once occupied by his oppressors. However, Kahndaq is full of resources, and they’ll need protection from organizations such as the Intergang. So, Adam’s new role as Kahndaq’s champion makes a lot of sense. That said, in the mid-credits scene, Amanda Waller advises Adam to keep his reach limited to Kahndaq only, thereby reframing the place as Adam’s prison instead of his home. She says that if he steps out, she’ll need to imprison him again because she can’t allow a being of his power to roam all over the planet. Adam says that that threat is meaningless because there’s no one on Earth who can stop him. Waller states that she knows people from outer space. Adam tells her to bring it on. And out of the shadows appears Superman (Henry Cavill’s version) in the flesh.
We live in a time when fans have become conditioned to scream at the screen when they see a character they know or when a beloved actor reprises a role they used to play. To me, it all seems like a business deal. Henry Cavill’s return is also a business deal. But the reason why it feels like a moment of triumph is that he never got his due. His iteration of the Man of Steel got one solo movie, one team-up movie, and one extended cameo. Then the character was played by body doubles, where his head was either out of frame, or his entire body was silhouetted. Rumors were flying around that the character was going to be recast or completely phased out because the DCEU was going in a new direction that wouldn’t include Zack Snyder’s take on Superman. However, with this cameo, it’s pretty much confirmed that Cavill is here to stay. He has expressed his love for Superman multiple times. And Dwayne Johnson and co. have somehow managed to bypass all the corporate complications and let him convey that love on the big screen. So, bravo to all of them for that!
“Black Adam” is a 2022 Action Thriller film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.