Black Adam – The origin story of DC universe’s fan-favourite antihero

Though new to the DC universe, director Jaume Collet-Serra was intrigued by the reluctant hero with unparalleled superpowers and an exacting viewpoint in Black Adam. He did a deep dive into the wealth of material in the canon, and also quickly honed in on the script’s timely themes. 

“I’m attracted to characters that walk that fine line between doing the right thing and doing what needs to be done, and I immediately saw a character that was very similar to those who, when the system breaks down, is able to bring justice in ways that other people were not able to do.  I felt like I hadn’t seen that in the superhero space and that to me was very exciting,” says Collet-Serra, who directed from a screenplay written by Adam Sztykiel and Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani, based on characters from DC created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck. 

In “Black Adam,” global icon Dwayne Johnson stars in the title role as the DC universe’s fan-favourite antihero, bringing his compelling origin story to the big screen for the first time.

Johnson, who also produced the film via his Seven Bucks banner, has tackled roles in almost every genre, and stepping into a super suit was always something he considered.  He and fellow producers Beau Flynn and Seven Bucks’ Hiram Garcia and Dany Garcia were all comic book fans growing up.

“Black Adam actually came onto my radar when I was really young,” Johnson relates.  “I loved comic books and I was always a DC kid.  I gravitated towards Black Adam because he was one of the very few superheroes, supervillains, or antiheroes—however, you want to categorize him—who had brown skin and looked like me.  Plus, he was always a badass,” he grins.  And while the road to the big screen was long—more than ten years, in fact—Johnson’s connection to the character and his story remained strong.  “Black Adam is something that has been a part of my DNA and my soul for many, many years.”

Flynn, who has worked with Johnson and the team at Seven Bucks on eight previous projects and numerous action films, saw this as an opportunity to strike out into another genre, but also to explore it in a different way, noting, “This project is the real genesis story of Black Adam; you get to know him over the entire picture and see why he is unlike any superhero you’ve ever seen before.  He lives in the grey and doesn’t play by the rules; he has this god-like power and calls it as he sees it with no fear.  Audiences are not only going to be incredibly entertained by Black Adam, but they’re also going to be moved and inspired by his story.”

DWAYNE JOHNSON as Black Adam in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “BLACK ADAM,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

“Black Adam is a legend to the people of Kahndaq,” Johnson relates, noting that, despite his absence for thousands of years and the fact that he does not want to be a hero to these people, still, “they call him their Champion.  For a country and a people who are oppressed, who seemingly have no hope but for the idea of this one man, that means something to them.  And their pain and anguish is familiar to him because he has felt it, too.  He once vowed to do everything to protect the people of Kahndaq from a king who enslaved them, and who was responsible for the death of his son.”

Like Johnson, Hiram Garcia’s affinity for Black Adam had not waned over the years, nor had his certainty that Johnson was the ideal actor to portray the man in black.  “‘Black Adam’ is the perfect project and fit for Dwayne and for Seven Bucks,” he says.  “We’d been wanting to get into the superhero world for a long time, but honestly the challenge was trying to find a character with fire and edge that aligned with Dwayne, while still letting us do all the things we wanted to do.  There are a lot of great superheroes out there who abide by very traditional rules and values; we wanted to find a property that was a bit outside of the box and allowed us to test the superhero morality.  If Dwayne is going to portray a superhero, he’s going to be someone extremely powerful that would fight for what’s right—but do it his way.”

For Dany Garcia, Co-founder of Seven Bucks Productions, Johnson’s longtime business partner and the powerhouse architect behind some of the most iconic projects under Seven Bucks Productions’ multi-channel, global banner, there was never a doubt that Seven Bucks and Black Adam were a seamless fit.

“I’ve admired the incredible DC characters since I was young—being able to unite the dynamic opportunities within the characters with our commitment and ability to create universes that expand much beyond the page has allowed us to truly ignite passion alongside our audience.  It was only natural to want Seven Bucks to collaborate and contribute to the world.  But, as important as it was for us to break into that space, it was also crucial for us to find a story that would sincerely resonate with our consumer, stay true to our point of view and illuminate the depth of the characters,” Garcia says.  “Black Adam is iconic in the DC universe—he’s such a nuanced, yet complex character.  Although his rise differs a bit from other superheroes, his authenticity and morality make him unique, and that’s ultimately what made him and his story the perfect one for us to bring to life.”

For the filmmakers, the goal was to tap into Black Adam’s legitimate comic book street cred and couple it with heart, a bit of dark humour and big cinematic action.  For them, there was only one director who could capture it all in epic fashion, and he was already at the helm of one of their films.

DWAYNE JOHNSON as Black Adam in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “BLACK ADAM,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Collet-Serra’s visions of Black Adam as the stranger rolling into town and becoming the principled rulebreaker, a staple of the western and lone cop genres, was an inspired game-changer for the producers, who felt his original take would satisfy both moviegoers and diehard comic book fans

Recalls Garcia, “From the very beginning, Jaume just had this unbelievable vision for ‘Black Adam,’ and backed it up with this incredible work ethic.  We saw it throughout ‘Jungle Cruise,’ everything was so thought out, so prepared; he knew the exact version of the movie he wanted to make and he really brought that sentiment and grit to the project.”

Observes Collet-Serra, “One of the more interesting parts of Black Adam is the thematic exploration about what makes a hero and who has the right to define what justice is.  I wouldn’t call Black Adam’s moral code questionable, but perhaps his moral code is just not up to date with the times that we live in.  He’s a no-nonsense guy; he does things his way for what he believes is right.”

And what he believes is right comes from a place of ultimate struggle…and sacrifice. 

ALDIS HODGE as Hawkman in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “BLACK ADAM,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Aldis Hodge was cast in the dual role of Carter Hall/Hawkman. “Hawkman, a.k.a. Carter Hall or Katar Hol, depending on what age and era we’re talking about, is a character who has the power to reincarnate.  So, back in his first life, when he was an Egyptian prince named Khufu, he found this Thanagarian metal called Nth metal that he realized he could use to defy gravity.  Through the years, he adapted it to other uses as the warrior Hawkman.  He’s a warrior through and through and I love the fact that he’s a man with fully fortified moral ethics. He’s just awesome.” While character backstory and development was Hodge’s focus, one of his biggest challenges would be upping his physicality to meet the demands of the role.  Like other actors before him, donning a superhero suit for the first time can be a daunting task, let alone executing the necessary stunt and action work that comes with the role.  But who better to guide him than his own co-star, who sports a superhero physique in his everyday life? Hodge, like millions of others, tuned into Johnson’s social media channels to see his well-documented fitness, strength-training and nutrition regimen in preparation for his title role.  Once cast, Hodge would begin his own strength and fitness training months in advance of his arrival in Atlanta and six weeks before cameras rolled to begin stunt boot camp with veteran stunt coordinator Tommy Harper and his team.  Preparations to practically execute Hawkman’s fighting and flying style would need a high level of fitness and finesse to execute. Hodge’s dedication to the physical side of the role of Hawkman was not lost on the filmmakers.  Remarks Garcia, “Not only did Aldis go above and beyond to fully inhabit Hawkman, but the physical transformation was tremendous.  He got massive for the film and really did as much as he could in terms of stunts.  At times, we had to hold him back a bit to be safe and let his stunt double step in.  He’s amazing in terms of both the action work and his acting chops.  He really gives a coolness to Hawkman that we’re all really proud of.”

Born Teth Adam, the character’s origin story is a tragic one

As penned by Adam Sztykiel and Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani, the film reveals the twist of fate that not only gifted this champion of ancient Kahndaq with his powers but also left him alone and embittered, wreaking havoc throughout the realm.  Because of his merciless ways, he was imprisoned by mystical wizards deep within the Rock of Eternity, a location which serves as the source of all magic.  This is where the black-hearted Black Adam has been entombed for 5,000 years.  However, the suspension of time has not weakened him, physically or emotionally; the moment he is freed, he is clearly still imbued with god-like powers, still, an invulnerable powerhouse possessing unbelievable strength and lightning-fast speed…and anger.

Collet-Serra’s powerhouse lineup behind the scenes included director of photography Lawrence Sher, production designer Tom Meyer, costume designers Kurt and Bart, and visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer, with editors Mike Sale and John Lee cutting and composer Lorne Balfe providing the score.

PIERCE BROSNAN as Dr. Fate in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “BLACK ADAM,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

“I’ve always loved the comic book genre and I love these movies,” says Brosnan.  They’re spectacular, so to be part of ‘Black Adam’ is just monumental.  When I was offered this role, I was so overjoyed, so overwhelmed, really.  I would watch these films and say, ‘I wonder if I will ever be offered anything?’ and lo and behold, here I am now playing this legendary, iconic character, Doctor Fate, with the golden Helmet, which gives him these great powers.  But his powers are a blessing and a curse; it takes great strength and courage to go into that helmet and into that world.  There are demons within him, and yet he is a very kind and personable fellow.”

“We’ve made some very big movies together where we’ve broken a lot of new ground in terms of storytelling and utilizing new technology and innovations in filmmaking,” recalls Flynn, “however, I feel like it’s all converged to this moment into ‘Black Adam.’  For us to have the ability to use LED walls, volumetric stages and new camera technologies, coupled with an incredible IP plus our storytelling with Jaume at the helm…it has all been electric.  Like the character himself, I think we are pushing the boundaries to achieve something very special here.”

For Johnson, everything in front of and behind the camera came together to create a version of Black Adam that was not only the role of a lifetime but one that he felt would reverberate throughout the DC universe.  “It’s rare to get the opportunity to introduce something completely brand new, from scratch, into the superhero mix and that’s what ‘Black Adam’ is.  When I say, ‘The hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change,’ it sounds audacious, but I mean that with real reverence and respect for the DC Universe.  True fans know the qualities that Black Adam has been blessed with, powers that change the balance of power, and when you break down these qualities and these powers that Black Adam has, you realize it’s rooted in truth.” 

Director & Screenwriters

JAUME COLLET-SERRA (Director) is an imaginative and skilled director who made a name for himself with a diverse range of feature films.   Born in Sant Iscle de Vallalta, a small town in the province of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.  At the age of 18, he moved to Los Angeles with limited resources and basic knowledge of the English language, determined to become a film director.  He attended Columbia College and began working on the side as an editor.

He was influenced by directors such as David Fincher, Spike Jonze, and Mark Romanek, and as a result decided that for his graduation project, he would replace the typical short film with a music video.  With the money he had saved and his knowledge of post-production, he shot a music video for an unknown local band, which caught the eye of various production companies.  Before he graduated from film school, he was signed up as a music video director with The End.

After shooting multiple music videos, the production company provided him funding to shoot his own spec spots.  He came back with an innovative two-and-a-half minute short for AOL.  It was featured in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase at Cannes that year.  From there, his career skyrocketed as he shot commercials for PlayStation, Budweiser, MasterCard, Miller Lite, Pontiac, Smirnoff Ice, Renault, Verizon, and 7UP, among many others- working with such agencies as McCann-Erickson, J. Walter Thompson, BBDO, and TBWA Chiat Day.

Collet-Serra’s surreal and often dark imagery quickly caught the eye of producer Joel Silver, who hired him to direct “House of Wax” in 2005.  In 2007, his love for soccer took him back to Spain to shoot “Goal II: Living the Dream.”  In 2009, he opened “Orphan” to critical and financial success.  “Unknown,” starring Liam Neeson, would follow snagging the No. 1 U.S. box office spot in its opening weekend, along with his follow-up film, “Non-Stop,” which grossed over $220 million worldwide. 

Collet-Serra would find similar acclaim with his 2015 film, “Run All Night,” and again in 2016 with “The Shallows,” starring Blake Lively.  “The Commuter” opened in 2018, marking Collet-Serra’s fourth collaboration with actor Liam Neeson, and again, securing tremendous worldwide box office success. 

After a year-long delay in release due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise, based on the iconic Disneyland ride and starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, opened in July 2021 to rave reviews and set box office records as one of the top five grossing summer releases.  A sequel was announced shortly after the release, further cementing the film’s success and highlighting the studio’s commitment to expanding the world Collet-Serra created in the first movie.  

ADAM SZTYKIEL (Written by) wrote and is attached to direct his feature LET’S HAVE KIDS for MRC, based on his original idea. In addition to BLACK ADAM with Dwayne Johnson, he wrote RAMPAGE for New Line, which also starred Dwayne Johnson, and DUE DATE for Legendary starring Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis. Additionally, he did work as a producer on SCOOB for Warner Bros Animation. In television, he created and executive produced the NBC sitcom UNDATEABLE, which ran for three seasons.  

RORY HAINES & SOHRAB NOSHIRVANI (Written by) met in New York at Columbia University’s MFA Film Program in 2007.  Haines hails from the United Kingdom and Noshirvani was born in Tehran before moving to the US at a young age. 

In 2018, their critically acclaimed mini-series, Informer, was produced by Sam Mendes for BBC and Amazon, picking up a BAFTA nomination for best drama.

Their debut feature, The Mauritanian, was adapted from Mohamadou Ould Slahi’s memoir Guantánamo Diary by Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald. The movie was released in 2021, starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Shailene Woodley. The film went on to receive nominations for two Golden Globes and five BAFTAs, including best adapted screenplay.