10 things you need to know about Black Adam, The Rock’s superhero debut

When you enslave a guy, sacrifice his son to give him superpowers, and then lock him in a tomb for 5,000 years, he’s not going to emerge with his virtuous sense of justice intact. That’s where we first meet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Black Adam, in what’s unbelievably the muscle man’s first live-action performance as a big-leagues superhero.

Thundering into cinemas soon, Black Adam is bringing a whole lot of anti-hero bitterness and never-before-adapted characters to the superhero scene. As you’ll find out from our facts below, “the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change.”

1. The Rock already played Black Adam (and two superdogs!) onscreen this year

The film will be our live-action introduction to a beloved comics character, who’s menaced the Justice League since his four-colour debut in 1942. But it’s not our first time meeting Black Adam onscreen in any form, as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has already voiced an animated version of the dude in DC League of Super Pets!

A post-credits cameo appearance featured The Rock as both animated Black Adam and his pet dog Anubis, who were tricked into flying to Pluto by Superman’s faithful Kryptonian pup Krypto…who was also voiced by The Rock. That must’ve been a weird day in the recording booth.

2. This is a decades-long passion project for Dwayne

We just like calling him Dwayne sometimes—it’s a bit less intimidating than The Rock. Basically, Hollywood has been trying to get a Captain Marvel film off the ground since the early 2000s, with the eyebrow-raising wrestler first approached for that part (which would later, due to legal issues with Marvel’s superhero of the same name, be newly addressed as Shazam!). Dwayne was more interested in the role of Shazam’s fearsome rival Black Adam, and by 2007 fans were already flipping out about the potential casting.

The DC cinematic universe flourished throughout the 2010s, with Wonder Woman, Batman, and others getting more attention, and by 2014 Dwayne was back to deciding whether he’d rather play the heroic Shazam or vengeful anti-hero Black Adam. The appearance of Dwayne as a Black Adam hologram in 2019’s Shazam! proved the latter rumour had come true. Finally.

3. Director Jaume Collet-Sera has compared to the character to Dirty Harry

A collaborator with The Rock on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, horror and action director Collet-Sera drew from some intense, slightly more realistic tales of justice and anti-heroics for his characterisation of Black Adam. Namely the 1971 crime classic Dirty Harry.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Collet-Sera gave a little historical context to the world of Clint Eastwood’s unflinching cop character: “the systems were corrupt, so you had criminals taking advantage. You needed a cop that would cut through the bullshit, and basically do what needs to be done. That’s very much in line with Black Adam and his way of thinking: you need people that break the rules to even out the playing field.” Hmmm sounds a bit authoritarian—let’s see how that ethos turns out for Dirty Adam.

4. Pierce Brosnan suffered through mo-cap to play the rarely-depicted Doctor Fate

A founding member of the Justice Society of America, who’ll unite to take down Black Adam in the new film, it’s odd that we’ve never been introduced to the illustrious Doctor Fate in any DC live-action movie. He’s a powerful sorcerer with a big intimidating helmet, and only an established action presence could fill it: enter former James Bond Pierce Brosnan, who was forced to perform his combat scenes in motion-capture technology as a time-saving measure during production.

In a chat with his own son for People, Brosnan laughed about the difficulties of his motion-capture costume, “which is an acting challenge in itself. But luckily, I was brought up in the theatre, so I know how to get into tights and act the goat.”

5. Aldis Hodge is Hawkman, who has awkward beef with Black Adam via reincarnation

You’ve seen Hodge as the caring cop in horror movie The Invisible Man, or in mid-century civil rights dramas Hidden Figures and One Night in Miami: but all Black Adam will see when he looks at Hodge’s hero Hawkman is a reincarnation of the Egyptian prince who enslaved him 5,000 years ago. Despite being a decent guy these days, strapped with flying mechanical wings and set on leading the nascent Justice Society of America, Hawkman’s spiritual ancestor only gives Black Adam bad vibes—expect a lot of “who’s that? No, I just look like him!” drama in between punches.

6. Netflix heartthrob Noah Centineo is Atom Smasher (basically DC’s Ant-Man :/)

Able to manipulate his structure on a molecular level to take on any size or strength, Atom Smasher (whose alter ego has the very nerdy name Al Rothstein) might remind viewers of Marvel’s scaleable, wise-cracking thief-turned-hero. Rom-com audiences will just know him as To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before‘s Peter Kavinsky, the role that catapulted him to immediate overnight recognition. Cast as He-Man in a Masters of the Universe film that was meant to hit cinemas in early 2021, that movie has now been bumped to 2024 and the lead role has been re-cast, allowing Centineo to play Atom Smasher in the character’s live-action feature debut.

7. Black Adam is the latest in a long string of DC’s so-called anti-heroes

The Rock has emphasised that Black Adam ain’t no goodie-two-shoes like DCEU heroes we know so far, saying that his character is “not the boy scout superhero, he’s the guy that’s like, okay, you cross him? Well, I rip your head off.” It sounds great, but is it just big talk from a dude known initially for his wrestling “heel” persona?

The recent DC “anti-heroes” we’ve met all turned very nice and heroic by their film’s final acts: Morbius slaying randoms on a boat was hand-waved as “welp they were probably bad people”, Venom was always called on to fight bigger, meaner symbiotes, and the villains of The Suicide Squad are practically just quirky government mercs that swear and steal a bit. We hope that Black Adam will get out of his film without losing the chip on his shoulder, not quickly defecting to the good side like the rest.

8. Black Adam might be getting set up for a beatdown by Shazam

The next Shazam! movie, titled Shazam! Fury of the Gods comes out in March next year, and the obvious similarities between Billy Batson’s unlikely rise and Black Adam‘s return to our realm can’t be ignored. Both of ’em got their powers from the ancient wizard Shazam (each ability being represented by a letter in his name, “S” being the wisdom of Solomon, “H” the power of Hercules, etc.), but they’re on very different sides of the super-morality compass.

Could our introduction to Black Adam, and all of his ethically gray/black morality and bad-assery, just be build-up for the inevitable showdown where good triumphs over evil as usual? We could be in for a blockbuster-sized example of The Worf Effect, a trope explained here as a simple way to boost one character’s power level—by setting up an entire new character only for the purposes of bolstering another’s battle cred. If so, poor Dwayne.

9. The film’s official posters are inspired by one of DC’s greatest painting artists

You’ve certainly seen Alex Ross’s superhero-centric art before, even if you didn’t realise it: bringing a Norman Rockwell, classical vibe to the world of suits and capes, Ross’s art can be seen on countless iconic comic book covers and in the opening credits of Spider-Man 2.

New character posters for each Black Adam hero and villain are closely recreating the intense lighting and dramatic poses of Ross’s fabulous art. It’s a good sign that the team behind the film are giving a shout out to the original text and visuals that made the anti-hero so recognised in the large canon of comic heavyweights.

10. Apparently the hierarchy of power…in the DC Universe…is about to change

Some publicist must’ve emphasised this ominous promo line to The Rock and he’s just run with it ever since, rattling it off about five times in the various clips collected below. It’s like he’s gone back into WWE mode, graduating from “can you smell what The Rock is cookin’?” to this:

What does that much-repeated line mean, exactly? Well, we can only find out once Black Adam strikes cinemas, but maybe it means the traditional trio of all-powerful heroes (namely Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) face a serious new contender. And with the next films featuring their supporting players Flash and Aquaman embroiled in huge respective controversies, Black Adam fills the power vacuum nicely. Bring on some change, we say!