Dwayne Johnson in "Black Adam."

Dwayne Johnson in "Black Adam." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

PLOT An ancient being from the Middle East must save the world from destruction.

CAST Dwayne Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Bodhi Sabongui

RATED PG-13 (some bloody violence)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Another low point for the Warner-DC franchise.

Movie for movie, the quality of the Warner-DC Universe has never been consistent, ranging from Christopher Nolan’s brilliant “Dark Knight” trilogy to David Ayer’s junky “Suicide Squad.” The latest, “Black Adam,” features Dwayne Johnson, the likable and highly bankable wrestler-turned-movie-star. It’s a seemingly smart move that brings new blood into a stagnant-feeling universe.

Instead, with “Black Adam,” both DC and Johnson have hit what you might call Rock bottom.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop”) from a baffling script by three writers, “Black Adam” is everything superhero movies have become known and despised for: silly characters, mindless action, phony-looking effects. In its favor: plenty of actors of Middle Eastern descent. That aside, “Black Adam” clings almost desperately to cliché.

Johnson’s first superhero role is the 5,000-year-old Teth Adam (his name later changes), who once acquired godlike powers and went on a vengeful rampage. Awakened today, he’s welcomed by Kahndaqis as a savior. Cue the obligatory skateboarding rapscallion, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), who gives the glowering Adam a cool catchphrase: “Tell him the man in black sent you!” So why is Adam being chased by other superheroes calling themselves the Justice Society? Perhaps he is not the hero he seems.

This sets up a confusing first act in which we’re not sure who to root for. Adam holds little appeal: He’s exactly the kind of wooden, humorless role Johnson should be putting behind him. Meantime, the Justice Society looks like a bunch of Marvel knockoffs: Pierce Brosnan, as the mystical Doctor Fate, is a bargain-basement Doctor Strange, while Aldis Hodge, as the winged Hawkman, echoes Anthony Mackie’s winged Falcon. (DC historians can argue about who came first, but only they will care.) There are also two irritating “teen” characters in Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). They’ll ultimately band together to stop a power-mad Kahndaqi rebel (Marwan Kenzari) from acquiring the ancient Crown of Sabbac.

A fight scene in Amon’s bedroom sees Adam and Hawkman punching through Superman posters and knocking over Batman toys, which is probably meant as a cutesy in-joke but feels more like self-loathing, as if this DC movie were sick of itself and its whole genre. Whoever Black Adam is, he’s not the hero any of us need.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the "Suicide Squad" filmmaker. The 2016 film was directed and written by David Ayer.

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