Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, going back to his pro wrestling days, has always given off that “superhero” vibe so it’s entirely apropos he’s starring in “Black Adam,” a big-budget DC Comics origin story out in theaters this weekend.
The film, shot in part at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville using oodles of CGI to create the fictional city of Kahndaq, features a coterie of characters not given movie love before including Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Hawkman’s mentor Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan).
They are part of the Justice Society, a group independent of the better known Justice League featuring A-list superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.
And there’s a protagonist in Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), a university professor and archeologist who is helping to lead rebel forces to take down the Intergang running her city like despotic overlords. She also happens to figure out a way to unleash Teth-Adam, entombed for 5,000 years, causing no shortage of chaos. (He renames himself Black Adam by the end of the film.)
Two of the actors ― Hodge (”Leverage,” “One Night in Miami”) and Shahi (”Sex/Life”) ― visited Atlanta last week to promote the movie.
Hodge, who has shot other films in Atlanta including “What Men Want” and “Hidden Figures,” was familiar with the DC Comic characters going into the movie. Hawkman, he said, has an existing fan base in the DC Comics world and he was thrilled by the final result of his shiny, lustrous wings by the post-production house. Hodge’s character runs the Justice Society and picks the team to try to capture Black Adam, perceived as a destructive rogue by him, but a hero to many in Kahndaq.
“He’s the anti-hero hero,” Shahi said. “He really blurs the line between superhero and villain.”
“What does justice look like?” Hodge added. “Justice for one or justice for all? This is an action-filled, grandiose-type film, but it’s peppered and layered with real, substantial conversations.”
Shahi’s character Adrianna is Team Black Adam all the way. She sees the pain the Rock’s character is going through and his need to avenge the death of his family. She also sees him as a vehicle to free her country.
Black Adam, when he arrives on screen, is a killing machine and virtually indestructible compared to many of his peers, but he keeps Adrianna and her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) alive.
“I was not a threat to him,” Shahi said. “I’ve often described her as Indiana Jones meets Lara Croft. Halfway through, I become the Black Adam whisperer. She can communicate with him in ways that other people can’t.”
And she has a connection with her character in real life.
“I really feel like she represents what is happening in the world right now,” Shahi said, noting the current protests in Iran over the female dress code. “I am Persian. I speak Farsi. I was born and raised in Texas but my mother was one of the original protesters over 40 years ago.” (Her mother, before Shahi was born, fled Iran after the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979 that led to the 444-day hostage crisis.)
One of the more interesting dynamics in the film is between Hawkman and Dr. Fate, played with dignity and gravitas by Brosnan, a former James Bond now in elder statesman mode at age 69. His character, who can see the future, treats Hodge’s character like a son.
“Pierce is a beautiful being,” raved Hodge, “just a smooth, classic, consummate gentleman.”
Shahi said Brosnan came onto the set with this “sense of awe.”
Hodge said he and Brosnan had a “real conversation on how to maintain joy in what we do. For someone with his career magnitude not to get jaded was quite impressive.”
The film’s leads are diverse and for Hodge, this is a blessing and a responsibility. He said the only criticism he has received on social media came from those who believe Hawkman isn’t supposed to be Black.
“This is part of the progress to help people normalize seeing us in this space,” Hodge said. “For every person who is not comfortable with the casting, there are 100 more people who are saying [expletive] all that! We want to see this. We’ve been waiting for this... The responsibility lies in doing this right and doing it well so we can continue to do it and others can do it as well.”
Indeed, this movie, which box-office pundits think could easily hit $75 million opening weekend, has the potential for future sequels.
“We have just touched the surface,” Shahi said. “Everyone has rich back stories.”
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.