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.
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…
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
Jungle Cruise, based on the at this point ancient Disney theme park ride, is stocked with bad puns, over plotting, and elaborate adventure set pieces that includes inexplicable Metallica infused orchestral cues. This is a big budget fantasy with two megawatt movie stars and animals that absolutely look CG. There are occasions where the screenwriters don’t feel the need to convince us that the two leads have fallen for each other. That’s just what happens in these thrill rides. That said, I found the picture to be an energetic ball of fun that kids will probably dig on several occasions. It comes close at times to matching the joyfulness of the first Pirates of the Caribbean and mostly avoids the tedium that cursed the sequels to varying degrees.
The film takes place in 1916, two years into World War I or The Great War at the time since the protagonists didn’t know a sequel was coming. Dr. Lily (Emily Blunt) is a botanist who believe she’s found the locale for the Tears of the Moon. That tree is said to break curses and offer healing powers for the ill. She wants to find it to advance medicine, but she lets her haughty yet stylish brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) try to sell potential funders. This is not a female friendly era after all. German royal Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) wants the Tears for more nefarious purposes. It involves using the Tears for fears and everybody wants to rule the world, don’t they? I can do bad puns too, folks!
Doc Lily and her brother need to find the Tree that is located deep in the Amazon River. Through a series of bumblings, her captain is Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). He arrives with his rinky dink boat, his Jaguar avatar assistant Proxima, and a cast of supporting characters tasked with making the jungle seem more dangerous than it is. The real danger involves obtaining the life force that is the Tree with its magical petals. Not only is the deranged Prince pining for it, but so is the cursed and undead Pirates like Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) and his minions.
By the time our two leads have been bitten by the love bug, Jungle Cruise gives us numerous action sequences on a majestic scale. Jaume Collet-Serra, best known for directing mid to low budget Liam Neeson genre exercises or horror flicks like The Shallows, accustoms himself well to the Mouse Factory machine. As mentioned, Frank and Lily’s romance might come off a bit shallow and forced. Yet the grand entertainment offered up by their surroundings makes up for it. And Johnson and Blunt certainly have the charisma to carry us on the journey. You could even say that we’re far from the shallow now (bad pun for the win!).
One could nitpick or pay admission to the notion that this mostly delivers on the rendering of its ride translated to the big screen (or wherever you may roam while viewing on Disney Plus). I found it fairly easy to go with the latter.
Debuting in multiplexes and on Disney Plus, Jungle Cruise sails into theaters and couches on Friday hoping for smooth box office returns. Based on the longtime attraction at the Mouse Factory’s theme parks, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt headline the fantasy adventure from director Jaume Collet-Serra.
The studio has, of course, made a boatload of cash with similar fare. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise stands at over $4 billion worldwide. That series also earned some Oscar love. In addition to Johnny Depp’s nominated performance in the 2003 original, part 1 nabbed four tech nods in the sound races (when they were divided into categories), Makeup, and Visual Effects. Sequel Dead Men’s Chest earned four mentions in the two sound contests, Art Direction (now Production Design), and Visual Effects (where it won). Threequel At World’s End also won Visual Effects and was nominated in Makeup. The fourth and fifth editions garnered no Academy attention.
The early chatter for Jungle Cruise compares it to more to The Mummy (as in the Brendan Fraser one) and not Pirates. That adventure earned a lone Sound nod in 1999.
So where does Jungle Cruise stand? Reviews are decent with a 69% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Sound and Visual Effects are certainly possible. That said, even some of the positive critical reaction isn’t overly kind to the CG effects. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this make the shortlist for VE and not make the final five while Sound is a bit iffy as well. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Disney has certainly had luck basing movies on their theme park quantities before and they hope it continues on July 30th with the release of Jungle Cruise. The adventure pic (with a reported budget north of $200 million) pairs Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt (fresh off her hit sequel A Quiet Place Part II) in the early 20th Century set tale. Costars include Jack Whitehall, Edgar Ramirez, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti. Jaume Collet-Serra, best known for Liam Neeson action flicks such as Unknown and Non-Stop or horror fare like The Shallows, directs.
As the studio has in 2021 with recent projects like Cruella and Black Widow, this will simultaneously premiere on Disney Plus for an extra viewing fee of $30. That strategy has been called into question in recent days considering the precipitous sophomore drop for Widow. Truth be told, the $30 doesn’t seem so high when factoring in families watching and that could negatively impact theatrical earnings.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (and The Haunted Mansion to a lesser degree) has shown an appetite for these Mouse Factory ride based attractions turned films. The star power of Johnson and Blunt doesn’t hurt either and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see this swing to over $30 million. However, the streaming competition could easily prevent that and I’ll estimate high 20s as it sets sail at multiplexes and at home.
Jungle Cruise opening weekend prediction: $28.4 million
Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his aging action star Liam Neeson collaborate for the fourth time with TheCommuter. If you remember their 2014 effort Non–Stop quite vividly, good for you because I had forgotten much of it. That pic put Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long flight in which he was forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. Four years later, this one puts Mr. Neeson in a precarious position on a long train ride in which he is forced to commit potential crimes commanded by shadowy villains. If that makes you think TheCommuter doesn’t exactly aim high, you’d be correct.
The trick with these movies is whether we can successfully put our brains aside and just enjoy the junk food genre offerings. This time around, the director and star don’t make it very easy for us. Neeson is Michael, an ex NYC cop turned life insurance agent for the last decade. He’s 60 (as he reminds us a few times) with a wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and son about to enter college. It’s tough for the family man to make ends meet and that’s thrown into chaos when he’s unceremoniously fired. Each day he makes a long commute home and on the day of his unexpected dismissal, more surprises follow. He’s approached on the train by Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and she offers an opportunity. There’s $100,000 for Michael if he can identify and place a GPS tracker on a passenger who goes by Prynne. Farmiga’s Conjuring hubby Patrick Wilson turns up as Michael’s old partner.
This is all tied to a murder investigation and Prynne is a witness. Joanna’s benefactors want Prynne eliminated and Michael is their ticket to make that happen. All this leads to Michael having to make a series of moral decisions while intermittently kicking an appropriate amount of baddie butt. We also are introduced to the train’s other passengers – some of whom are given perfunctory subplots while we await Prynne’s grand reveal.
TheCommuter, quite frankly, is totally ludicrous and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The same could certainly be said of Unknown (the first Collet-Serra/Neeson joint) or Non–Stop. Yet I found both to be slightly more entertaining than this. The screenplay (which somehow took three people to write it) does too little to engage us with its silly plot and a couple of decently choreographed action sequences aren’t enough to save it. Neeson gives it his earnest and occasionally intense all. Bless his heart for not coasting as the story does.
It’s been nine years since Liam Neeson reinvented himself as everyone’s go to elder action star with Taken. The last couple of years have seen him focusing on other genres, but he’s back in kick ass mode next weekend with TheCommuter. This marks his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra after Unknown, Non–Stop, and RunAllNight. Costars include Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (presumably doing no conjuring work), as well as Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, and Elizabeth McGovern.
Mr. Neeson’s first two pictures with this director came while he was still packing in audiences with the Taken franchise. That helped propel Unknown and Non–Stop to openings above $20 million. RunAllNight (and another more recent Neeson action flick AWalkAmongtheTombstones) both failed to reach the teens in their debuts.
TheCommuter has received decent reviews so far and sits at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, recent evidence has shown the star’s box office potency in the genre has waned. I’ll predict this reaches low to possibly higher teens for its four-day MLK weekend debut.
TheCommuter opening weekend prediction: $14.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)
Jaume Collet-Serra’s TheShallows marks the director’s second feature of making claustrophobic thrillers in vast open areas. In Non–Stop with Liam Neeson (he also made Unknown and RunAllNight with him), it was the sky but confined to an aircraft. Here it’s the clear blue waters of Mexico but confined to Blake Lively on a wounded whale and a rock and a buoy as a shark terrorizes her.
Lively is Texas med student Nancy, who’s on vacay in our southern neighbor but not for the reasons of most coeds. Her mom has recently passed and she’s seeking out a secluded beach that was special to her. Nancy locates it and it’s certainly gorgeous. It’s also a locale that a great white finds special to it.
And so begins Nancy’s hour and a half battle with the beast. This is largely a one woman show and Ms. Lively provides a sturdy performance. The other humans in the cast appear sparingly. Some are chum. We also get a brief glimpse of our protagonist’s dad and little sister via cell video. Nancy is also joined much of the way by a wounded seagull (she crowns him Steven) and that little bird is her Wilson for awhile.
The backstory involving the deceased mom and family issues isn’t exactly necessary, yet it doesn’t often slow down the momentum. Any shark tale will be compared to the genre’s masterpiece and I’m of course referring to the Sharknado franchise. In all seriousness, The Shallows does take its cue from Jaws in showing its other star rather sparingly. When it does, it looks a bit too CG at times. Still, Lively’s commanding presence as she plays “Shark! Who Goes There?” (I’m sorry) creates just enough suspense to make this recommendable.
Fin. Sorry with the puns again. Sharko Polo? Just watch it. It’s pretty good B movie escapism.
It’s Woman vs. Shark as The Shallows swims its way into theaters next weekend. Providing a considerably different aquatic experience than Finding Dory, the horror thriller pits bikini clad Blake Lively in the fight of her life against a big ol’ great white.
Jaume Collet-Serra directs and this is his first time in four films that he’s not working with Liam Neeson (he made Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night). Columbia Pictures is hoping its simple premise and effective trailers will get horror buffs and Shark Week supporters to turn out.
Yet I don’t expect this will take a significant bite out of the box office. All shark movies are measured against Jaws (the original summer blockbuster). Those are big fins to fill and my prediction actually has this just outdoing 2010’s Piranha remake.
The Shallows opening weekend prediction: $10.4 million
For my Independence Day: Resurgence prediction, click here: