Black Adam Review

In 1993, NBA superstar Charles Barkley famously told the world in a commercial that he was not a role model. Nearly three decades later, cinematic superstar Dwayne Johnson tells us repeatedly in Black Adam that he is not a hero. This latest offering from the DC Extended Universe kind of has a mid 90s vibe when it comes to comic book adaptations. That was a weak time for the genre prior to its explosion in the 21st century. As far as quality, this has more in common with 1996’s Kazaam, which starred Barkley’s Inside the NBA colleague Shaquille O’Neal. Adam may have a connection to 2019’s Shazam!, but shares little of its entertainment value.

A prologue in 2600 B.C. introduces us to the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Kahndaq. A young boy enslaved by an evil ruler chooses to take a stand against the oppression (even as his elders discourage it). He is rewarded by the Council of Wizards – hence that Shazam! tie-in as he’s given the immense powers of that character.

Flash forward 5000 years and Kahndaq is under a different kind of oppression from a crime syndicated known as Intergang. Archeologist Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) is in search of the Crown of Sabbac, which turns its wearer into a demonic being. Intergang is looking for it as well. When they clash, she manages to awaken Teth-Adam. He’s believed to be that heroic rebel from 50 centuries ago. Dwayne Johnson is the awoken being. Adam insists that’s he not a hero and keeps saying it.

The presence of this superhuman relic attracts the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who you may remember as The Suicide Squad‘s recruiter. Adam is looked at as a potential threat. The Squad doesn’t intervene. Neither does Superman or Batman or The Flash (though they’re glimpsed on the bedroom wall of Adrianna’s teenage son). Instead the Justice Society books passage to Kahndaq to investigate just how dangerous Adam is. Pierce Brosnan is the clairvoyant Doctor Fate, Aldis Hodge is Hawkman, Noah Centineo plays Atom Smasher (think Ant-Man but he can only grow big), and Quintessa Swindell is the twirling Cyclone. If this sounds like the B list of the DC pages, that’s certainly how it feels. That superficiality extends to the villain (Marwan Kenzari), the Intergang leader who dons the devilish crown. He might be more forgettable than Justice League‘s baddie Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and that’s saying a lot.

Jaume Collet-Serra directed Johnson in the pretty enjoyable Jungle Cruise. That collaboration was a better ride than this. Johnson is saddled with a hero (wait… NOT a hero!!!) who’s often a sullen bore. Very little of the actor’s dynamic personality comes through. It break through on occasion but not nearly enough. We’re cooking at a low boil. Everything in Black Adam has been done with more pizzazz in other DCEU and especially MCU pictures. Dwayne Johnson (and Tina Turner) are right in this case. We don’t need another hero.

*1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: Black Adam

Of the ten 10 previous films making up the DC Extended Universe, there’s only one Oscar nomination to be found. That’s the third film in the franchise – 2016’s Suicide Squad – and it’s a win in the Makeup and Hairstyling race.

Black Adam with Dwayne Johnson represents a new chapter in the DCEU as Warner Bros hopes the character becomes a fixture in future installments. Out Friday, the review embargo has lifted and critical reaction is certainly in the mixed variety. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 54%.

From Man of Steel up through last summer’s new version of The Suicide Squad, even the competitions where comic book adaptations can contend have escaped awards attention. That includes Best Sound and Visual Effects (where numerous MCU titles have been nominated though never won). From what I’ve seen reaction wise, there’s no reason to think Black Adam would be contending for a second DCEU nod. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Black Adam Box Office Prediction

Dwayne Johnson looks to bring his often rock solid box office bonafides to the DC Extended Universe with Black Adam on October 21st. The 11th feature in the franchise that began with Man of Steel nearly a decade ago is a spinoff of 2019’s Shazam! Like that pic, it is centered on a less widely known hero in the DC arsenal. Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked with Johnson recently in Jungle Cruise) directs. The supporting cast includes Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Viola Davis, and Pierce Brosnan.

It’s somewhat surprising that we’ve waited this long to see the live-action comic book genre and this leading man hook up. While this should perform well, Adam is unlikely to approach the opening grosses of the DCEU’s earlier titles like Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. They all made over $100 million (or close to it) out of the gate. Yet this should top the $53 million earned by Shazam! The best comp I see is Aquaman, which made $67 million during its traditional Friday to Sunday rollout. I’ll say it makes a little less.

Black Adam opening weekend prediction: $64.7 million

For my Ticket to Paradise prediction, click here:

Ticket to Paradise Box Office Prediction

DC League of Super-Pets Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (07/27): I am revising my estimate down considerably- from $42.6M to $33.6M

Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart already share a successful cinematic history via Central Intelligence and the Jumanji franchise. On July 29th, they reunite to respectively provide the voices of Superman and Batman’s canine companions in the animated DC League of Super-Pets. The Warner Animation Group superhero tale (or rather… tail?) is directed by Jared Stern, who did work on the studio’s The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie. John Krasinski voices the Man of Steel while Keanu Reeves does so for the Caped Crusader. Other familiar names contributing vocal work are Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Marc Maron, and Olivia Wilde.

The Legion of Super-Pets from the DC Comics dates all the way to 1962 and their connection to their iconic masters could get plenty of kids to the multiplexes. It might even get their parents slightly interested. The summer of 2022 has been unpredictable when it comes to animated features. Lightyear was a rare disappointment for Disney/Pixar and Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank outright bombed last weekend. On the other hand, Minions: The Rise of Gru was a massive hit that’s currently rising to a $300 million plus domestic haul. The Bad Guys was also a solid performer in the spring.

So what league will this premiere in? Estimates have it in the $40-50 million range. I see no reason why it would greatly exceed or fall short of expectations. I’m thinking it starts in the low to mid 40s though getting above $50 million is certainly doable.

DC League of Super-Pets opening weekend prediction: $33.6 million

 

The Batman Box Office Prediction

Another chapter for the Caped Crusader flies into theaters March 4th with The Batman. The franchise reboot comes with high expectations and pent up anticipation as Robert Pattinson takes over the title role. Matt Reeves, best known for Cloverfield and the last two Planet of the Apes pics, directs. The supporting cast includes Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as the Riddler, Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred, and an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as the Penguin. Originally slated for summer 2021, it looks to rule the month of March after its COVID delay.

There is little competition in its way and its event picture status should propel it to huge numbers. How big? The Batman could be in line for a larger opening weekend than 2008’s The Dark Knight ($158 million) and 2012 follow-up The Dark Knight Rises ($160 million). And you may have forgotten that 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice actually holds the highest Bat premiere at $166 million.

Spider-Man: No Way Home showed that moviegoers were more than ready to turn out in force with the right product. Early IMAX offerings have already sold out for opening day. Estimates are wide. It could be as low as $100 million or approach $200 million. I’m thinking $145-$165 million is the likeliest range.

The Batman opening weekend prediction: $155.2 million

The Suicide Squad Review

I had no doubt while watching James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad that it’s a more realized vision of exactly what its director wanted. This was apparently not the case with David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad and maybe we will see his Justice League style extended cut one day. For this latest DC Extended Universe pic, Warner Bros reportedly let Gunn do his thing without interference.

The result is a hard R rated and often gleefully bizarre experience. There are some truly funny moments and inspired action sequences mixed with a host of repetitive ones. At one point, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) makes light of a character named Milton who just got popped. The joke is that she doesn’t remember him being part of the team because he’s so forgettable. Milton isn’t the only one. Frankly, I’m struggling a bit with my overall take. This Squad is unquestionably an improvement over its predecessor. Yet I never quite got immersed in its raunchy comic book violence or irreverent attitude in the way I did with Deadpool or Gunn’s own Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is still head of A.R.G.U.S., the government organization that has its own unique prison work release program. Felonious super villains are sent on black ops missions in the name of homeland security (or so they’re told). Many of the cast mates (including Will Smith’s Deadshot) are MIA this time around. Harley’s back as is Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). So is Waller’s right-hand man and Squad leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

From the jump, we discover that no character may live past a scene or two and this does contribute to an unpredictable vibe. The newbies recruited include human weapons depot Bloodsport (Idris Elba), meaning of the word peace conflicted Peacemaker (John Cena), rodent whisperer Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). His name? Just like it sounds. Our primary CG creation is King Shark (voice by Sylvester Stallone), who’s half man/half Jaws. If he reminds you a bit of Groot from Guardians, mission accomplished.

Speaking of missions, it is to stop a recent coup in the fictional South American land of Corto Maltese. Now that their government has been overthrown, someone needs to destroy a secretive laboratory housing an experiment called Project Starfish. Part of the Squad’s goal is to capture The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a scientist who’s involved with the mysterious Starfish happenings. The eventual revelation of what that is pure B movie escapist joy that I won’t spoil.

Regarding our brand new characters, it’s a mixed lot. Elba’s Bloodsport has a character arc and motivations not unlike Smith’s Deadshot and it’s not terribly interesting. I will say his brief interaction with his daughter (Storm Reid) humorously didn’t go the way I thought it would. Cena uses his comedic chops effectively at times with his morally confused antihero. Gunn pushes pretty hard to make Ratcatcher 2 a heartwarming protagonist amidst the exploding heads and bodies being literally ripped apart. It could have gone the wrong way, but Taika Waititi’s casting as her dad helps save the day. King Shark’s contribution to that mayhem is rather amusing.

In one way, the more things change (and change they do from 2016) – the more they stay the same. This would be with Robbie’s Quinn, who retains the title of best performance and most enjoyable demented personality. For a while, she gets her own subplot that involves being romanced by the Corto Maltesian dictator (Juan Diego Botto) and being an unreliable torture subject. Those scenes work well and Robbie gets the lions share of the credit. Like in Suicide Squad, she’s the brightest star in The Suicide Squad. 

*** (out of four)

Birds of Prey Review

By her own admission, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) becomes a slightly less terrible person in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). She was, of course, first seen in 2016’s Suicide Squad where Robbie’s psychiatrist turned psychotic fell in love with Jared Leto’s Joker. The Squad is nowhere to be found and neither is her clown in crime. Harley is newly single and drinking her sorrows away when the proceedings begin. Her recent separation means she’s a marked gal with no protection from her former bonkers beau.

With the Joker (rather inexplicably) missing in action, flamboyant crime lord with a penchant for peeling faces Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is the head baddie in a picture filled with them. He’s in search of a diamond that contains codes to a massive fortune. Roman isn’t the only one. Helena Bertinelli aka The Huntress (or The Crossbow Killer) had her whole family killed for it and she’s hellbent on exacting revenge. Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is Roman’s conflicted driver whose superpower seems to be her singing skills. Then there’s Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a teenage pickpocket extraordinaire who boosts and then consumes the crown jewel. Her intestines become a sought after commodity.

Rosie Perez is Detective Montoya, who must deal with all these crazies while getting no credit from her male coworkers. That’s a running theme in Prey where the females do the heavy lifting and pulverizing while the dudes hold the power. With all these characters being introduced (and their many grievances with Harley literally spelled out onscreen), our main character occasionally feels like a supporting participant in her own stand-alone. This is especially true early on.

Robbie was a bright spot in the very uneven Suicide Squad. Robbie still displays her demented joy in this role. In many ways, Prey improves on Squad. First off, her new squad of friends is a tad more interesting and colorful. McGregor is a better main villain and the veteran thespian has a ball going for the gusto.

Director Cathy Yan and her tech team construct some looney violent set pieces that are intermittently effective. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that by the time we arrive at a theme park for the climax, Prey had become rather repetitive. The pic keeps its tone more consistent than Harley’s first big screen foray, but it’s one that can become tiresome. There are times when Birds flies close to being the vehicle Robbie deserves and it is certainly not terrible, but it stays a tad grounded in its own wacky reality.

**1/2 (out of four)

Squad Goals Thwarted

Uh oh. That is likely to be the prevailing refrain coming from not only Warner Bros today, but Hollywood as a whole. The August box office has kicked off with only one wide release this weekend and it’s a high profile one in The Suicide Squad. This is the hard R rated reboot of the franchise from director James Gunn, who’s had massive success in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel.

Hopes were riding high after this Squad received unexpectedly laudatory marks from critics with a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. The 2016 Suicide Squad managed only 26% and still became a financial success story. In fact, its $65 million opening Friday set the August record five years back. It went on to gross $133 million for the weekend and $325 million overall domestic.

With the Delta variant rising across the country and the 2021 version being available on HBO Max, no one expected this to match the original. However, when it made $4 million on Thursday night, that seemed to correlate with a premiere close to $40 million (where I had it pegged).

What a difference a day makes. Reports have The Suicide Squad earning just over $12 million for Friday (this includes the Thursday preview numbers). And that means a debut in the mid 20s is where it’s headed. That is absolutely on the lowest end of forecasts.

In short… that’s bad. Usually comic book movies are critic proof if the reviews are mediocre (like Suicide Squad). One would think the unanticipated praise would’ve been a boost. Not so. To make it worse, 2020’s spin-off Birds of Prey focused on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn character took in $33 million out of the gate. I can’t imagine Warner Bros ever imagined The Suicide Squad would fall short of that.

So what happened? There will be many theories. First off, 2016’s Squad was a hit, but audiences didn’t exactly love it and perhaps they weren’t clamoring for a reimagining. The original Squad had a PG-13 rating and that means youngsters had a better opportunity to turn out. The new Squad being on HBO Max. The absence of the franchise’s biggest star Will Smith.

These are all viable explanations and they might all be contributors (especially the general ambivalence for what we witnessed five years ago). Studios are really hoping the overriding rationale isn’t the Delta variant. If so, don’t be shocked if we see other major releases start getting delayed again. That would be a reversal from where things seemed headed even last month. There’s a whole lotta movie lovers hoping No Time to Die or Dune or Halloween Kills and more stick to their fall plans.

Family fare like Space Jam: A New Legacy and Jungle Cruise opened slightly above projections and both were available on streaming. Theaters owners had reason to feel hopeful. To be clear, one failure may not change the dynamic and The Suicide Squad could represent a blip where the aforementioned circumstances caused the lackluster performance. Yet there’s little doubt that radars across Tinsel Town are at full attention and that this never-ending story of uncertainty carries on.

Oscar Watch: The Suicide Squad

I’m not sure what I anticipated for The Suicide Squad when its review embargo lifted, but it definitely wasn’t this. Five years after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad posted impressive box office returns but poor critical reaction, the Squad’s new comic book adventure appears to be a major improvement. James Gunn, maker of both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks for the MCU, has taken over directorial duties. Opening next Friday in theaters and HBO Max streaming, the difference in reviews is quite startling.

How much so? 2016’s Suicide Squad ended up with a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score. Putting The in front of the title for 2021’s version apparently upped the quality considerably. Its Tomato meter stands at (get this) 98% with 55 reviews up at time of posting. Gunn’s iteration is said to be a hard R rated blast that is more of a redo than reboot of the franchise. Sounds like mission accomplished.

No, I don’t think this will get a Best Picture nomination. I do believe it could play in down the line races (two in particular). You may have forgotten that the first Squad is actually an Oscar winner for Makeup and Hairstyling and The Suicide Squad could easily show up there again. Gunn is no stranger to that category as the first Guardians nabbed a nod there. Both Guardians also made the final five in Visual Effects and Squad could too. The competition in that race should be serious and some of the other hopefuls also come from Warner Bros. (Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, the fourth Matrix).

Bottom line: reviewers are crowing that the latest makeup of the Squad is a vastly superior experience. It may only get a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination to show for it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Suicide Squad Box Office Prediction

Putting the “The” in front of the title isn’t the only change for The Suicide Squad as the DC Comics adaptation hits theaters August 6th. Arriving five years after Suicide Squad, James Gunn (best known for making both Guardians of the Galaxy pics for the MCU) takes over directing duties from David Ayer. Will Smith is nowhere to be found though Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn. Other returnees include Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney. New cast members in the mix are Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, Michael Rooker, and Pete Davidson.

The tenth feature in the DC Extended Universe series, the film will be a test of just how much audiences wish for a return engagement in this particular subsection of the franchise. In 2016, Suicide Squad (despite mostly poor reviews) exceeded expectations with its opening weekend. It grossed a frontloaded $133 million out of the gate with an eventual domestic haul of $325 million. In the spring of 2020, spin-off Birds of Prey, centered on Robbie’s character, was a different story. Prey made a full $100 million less than Squad for its start at $33 million with an $82 million overall stateside gross.

The Suicide Squad, like all Warner Bros product in 2021, will open simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max’s streaming service. The studio has seen some positive results this year with that strategy including Godzilla vs. Kong (nearly $50 million in its five-day Easter debut) and Space Jam: A New Legacy at a better than expected $31 million.

Gunn’s Squad tale will not approach what was achieved five years ago. Yet I do suspect it will outdo the low 30s made by Prey. Hitting $50 million is achievable, but Delta variant complications and the availability of HBO Max could put it under that figure in the low to possibly mid 40s range.

The Suicide Squad opening weekend prediction: $40.8 million