According to Dwayne Johnson, Black Adam is a new kind of superhero movie: one that disrupts the paradigm. Johnson and the rest of the team have high hopes for the film; the wrestler-turned-actor has also said that the “hierarchy of power” is set to change within the DC Extended Universe as a result.
The DCEU began in 2013 with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and perseveres despite facing challenges. Now that Henry Cavill is reportedly back in the role of Superman, and Black Adam supposedly the most powerful of all superpowered beings, it isn’t hard to see where – on the surface — Johnson might be going with this.
But how do Black Adam’s other heroes fit in? The movie introduces the Justice Society into proceedings, in the form of Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher. How exactly do they contribute to Johnson’s assertion that the movie disrupts the superhero movie paradigm, and what could be in store for them further down the line, as Warner Bros. starts to line up sequels, prequels, and/or spin-offs? We chat to the cast of Black Adam aka the Justice Society – plus Adrianna actress Sarah Shahi – to find out.
How the JSA Disrupts the Superhero Movie Paradigm
“With the introduction of the JSA, and how they’re introduced with[in] the narrative of Black Adam navigating or straddling the fence [between] good and bad, what it is [doing] is introducing the audience to a completely new genre, or of the definition of a superhero,” says Aldis Hodge who plays Carter Hall aka Hawkman. Hall is recruited as part of a band of superheroes named the JSA tasked with getting Black Adam – awakened after 5000 years of ‘slumber’ — under control.
“Black Adam walks to the beat of his own drum, does his own thing, and the Justice Society comes in with their own idea of what justice is. We have to deal with Black Adam on his terms to acknowledge a new avenue of justice. Usually with superhero films we have an established good and established bad. This is the very first time we have a prominent antihero that is in the middle and new rules have to be established; new rules have to be addressed, followed, broken… so when DJ says the hierarchy is about to change it’s because they change the rules. So now the entire superhero world is introduced to what the next evolution of this is.”
So if Black Adam is about establishing new rules, the future of the DCEU is establish to play with them.
Cyclone and Atom Smasher Tearing It Up
Quintessa Swindell gives an insight into how their character, Cyclone aka Maxine Hunkel, and Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher/Al Rothstein, also upend expectations.
“I feel like Noah’s character and me are two sides of the same coin,” says Swindell. “We come into this world with a perception of who we should be. Over the course of the movie that really shifts, and then we become differentiating sides to that singular viewpoint of justice, and justice, and people’s liberation. And so I think that really disrupts it in a way, because you don’t really see that in the whole paradigm.”
In the film, it is prophesied that one day ‘the champion’, who once worked to free the individuals of Kahndaq from oppression under a tyrant king, would return should they ever need liberating again. Cue Black Adam’s resurrection in the present-day fictional Middle Eastern country. Only, as we know, Black Adam’s form of justice isn’t typical of a superhero. And do the individuals really need a saviour anyway?
“One hundred percent,” says Centineo, agreeing with Swindell. “And also, we’ve laid the foundation in Black Adam to grow the universe in so numerous different ways. You know, Maxine has a complete future after this film, and a really crazy past as well. As does Al. So to be able to explore those different directions, I think that’s really also what it means [to disrupt the paradigm]. From a narrative perspective, we’re introducing nine characters to the DCEU in this movie that all have really, really wonderful stories to tell.”
Badass Is Boring
Sarah Shahi plays Adrianna in the film, a character resistant to the present-day mercenary occupation of Kahndaq and who is swept up in Black Adam’s return when searching for a hidden artifact. As a non-powered individual in the film, how does Adrianna play disruptor?
“With my character, growing up, I didn’t really look at comics,” says Shahi. “You had Wonder Woman, you had… if it was Supergirl or whatever it was, I couldn’t relate. I’m Persian, I had a unibrow, I was pretty hairy as a kid. And so I never was able to see myself in them. But I’m hoping that with Adrianna, with me playing her — everything that’s happening in Iran right now is very close to my heart because I am Persian — I hope that she is able to open up the doors to other Middle Eastern [girls], other brown kids, that might want to look up to somebody or something, and perhaps Adrianna can be that for them.”
Shahi also emphasizes that Adrianna is a whole lot more than just ‘tough” and ‘badass”.
“Those are kind of boring, honestly, to play,” says Shahi. “And I also just don’t think it’s real to play someone that’s [simply] tough. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have fear. It just means they have the courage to step into [their] fears. So that’s what I was trying to look for with [director Jaume Collet-Serra]. It’s not necessarily that she’s not afraid of [Black Adam]. She understands the power that he has. But at the same time, there’s a purpose that’s much bigger than that. And she has to step into her courage to be able to talk to him and to obtain to him in a way that nobody else can.”
The Black Adam Whisperer
Shahi describes Adrianna as a part Indiana Jones, part Lara Croft character who halfway through becomes the “Black Adam Whisperer”. She talks about where Adrianna’s fortitude comes from, and says her character has “an extensive knowledge of her country, of the mysticism that surrounds her country” which is anchored to her grandmother’s gift of the relic that’s referenced at the beginning of the movie. She also describes Adrianna as “fiercely protective of her child”.
If Shahi were to explore the character further, what ground would she want to cover?
“Well, I’ve heard about this little lady called Isis,” she says, referencing Adrianna’s superhero persona from the comics. If there was an opportunity, then I’d like to interact with her a little bit.”
Shahi admits she doesn’t know what kind of woman Adrianna would become once bestowed with powers, but says, “I’m aware of the comic history of her and Black Adam, and the kind of stuff that they wield together. And so it would really nice to be able to have that stage to explore these two characters and what happens and how they can really influence each other. I feel like in this movie, Adrianna’s relationship with Black Adam is pretty interesting. I think there’s a lot that’s unsaid that perhaps translates and to be able to see that sort of in a broader story, that’d be kind of fun.”
Hawkgirl and Inza Cramer
All of the cast would like to explore relationships, it seems. Pierce Brosnan included. The Doctor Fate/Kent Nelson actor says, “I’d like to explore the relationship with my wife who’s supposed to be extremely powerful as well in that realm of superheroes.”
In the comics, Nelson’s wife is Inza Cramer, a sorcerer able to use Chaos Magic, and who, Nelson asserts, is more talented than him.
Aldis Hodge, meanwhile, says he wants to dive into Hawkman’s backstory first of all: “I would like to explore how I got to this place in this particular life, this version of Carter Hall, and then also where that relationship is with my Shiera Hall — my Hawkgirl. Gonna be interesting!”
If, like me, you love the relationship between Doctor Fate and Hawkman, you might well be shipping them. Could we ever obtain a romantic development? Their chemistry in the movie is off the charts. Doubtful but Hodge suggests a ship name anyway: Fawkman (careful how you say that).
As for villains in this hypothetical follow-up, Hodge wants to see Hawkman go up against a very particular character.
“There’s a ghost [named Gentleman Ghost] who DC fans will know,” he says. “He’s cursed to continually haunt Hawkman and Hawkgirl. He’s a pest, but I think I’d like to go there.”
Another screen coupling the movie injects spark into is the super-intelligent Cyclone and the enthusiastic but slightly clueless Atom Smasher. Centineo suggests a team-up with Cyclone where they figure out how to use their powers, while Swindell adds that they’d like the movie to explore the characters’ backstories too. But how about a romantic comedy, where they perhaps figure out their portmanteau ship name?
“A romantic comedy? And perhaps it’s not action. Maybe it’s just a love story,” suggests Centineo. “Can you imagine? DC is like, by the way, here’s the alternate universe. It’s just a rom-com.”
All superhero movies need a villain, so who would they want their characters to come up against?
“Doctor Manhattan would be crazy,” says Centineo.
They both would also like to see the Justice Society team up with members of the Suicide Squad, although for Swindell, their dream JSA member is Hooded Justice. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future of the DCEU brings.
Black Adam hits screens in the US and the UK on 21 October, 2022.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power cast is also enthusiastic about spin-offs, as are the fans. Check out what Middle-earth and Arda-set Tolkien stories they’d like to see on screen in the article below.