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Black Adam concept art Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Black Adam won’t be R, but may still be unlike any DC comic book movie yet

Dwayne Johnson’s violent antihero is ready to shake things up

News first broke all the way back in 2007 that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would play DC Comics’ godlike antihero Black Adam in a live-action movie. Introduced in the comics as an enemy of Captain Marvel aka Shazam, the hope was to have the larger-than-life wrestling star play the villain opposite another bulky leading man. Fourteen years later, the movie is finally happening in a radically different landscape: Johnson is one of the biggest blockbuster stars working in Hollywood, Warner Bros.’ DC movie universe has rebooted itself multiple times since Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Dark Knight trilogy, and a global pandemic completely reshaped how and when people go to the movie theaters.

But in 2022, Johnson will finally appear as Black Adam in the character’s standalone comic book movie. According to Hiram Garcia, president of production for Seven Bucks Productions, the film completed shooting in July in Atlanta, and was preparing an extensive round of VFX-related work.

“One of the things I love about Black Adam is all the abilities he has,” Garcia tells Polygon, “and I wanted to make sure in the movie, he is doing all of those things all throughout. It’s not like you see him move super fast just one time, or you see him fly just one time. So we’re doing techniques that you’ve never seen before to bring him to life: when he flies, the way he uses his speed, the way he uses his strength. You will feel how powerful this hero is — or this antihero, I should say — in the movie. This film is truly utilizing a ton of technology that’s never been done before, especially for how he flies. It’s everything from LED screens, to volumetric cameras to super high-speed photography.”

Black Adam and Justice Society of America concept art Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Over the years, various directors stepped in to develop some combination of Black Adam and Shazam. Eventually the two projects split, with director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) taking over the lighter-toned Shazam and Black Adam becoming a top priority for Seven Bucks Productions. Eventually, Johnson and Garcia tapped their Jungle Cruise director Jaume Collet-Serra, another horror-thriller veteran, to helm the movie.

“Jaume, as you can imagine, having such a history in genre, and knowing edge and the kind of scares we wanted, he was perfect for Black Adam,” Garcia says. “But at the same time, I was also watching him do this big world-building movie with Jungle Cruise. So in Jaume, we could merge the all the elements we wanted for this.”

As revealed at DC’s 2020 FanDome event, Black Adam will cast Johnson as the true antihero form of the character. “I love that he has his own sense of Black Adam justice,” Johnson said at the time. “I also love the fact that his origins are that of a slave [...] he felt the burdens and the pressures of a larger entity holding him down until you can’t take it anymore.”

And Black Adam will lay down that justice, taking on a group of heroes known to comic readers as the Justice Society of America. The line-up includes Atom-Smasher (Noah Centino), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), all of whom are expected to end up a little bruised after encountering Black Adam. Unlike Superman, who has such a reputation for being a Big Blue Boy Scout that fans were up in arms after his use of deadly force in the 2013 reboot Man of Steel, Black Adam wallops his opponents with a combination of flight, super strength, and electricity.

As Johnson has emphasized throughout production, Black Adam will be a more darker, potentially more violent turn for the DC universe. But it won’t be too dark. Though there’s a precedent for big-budget R-rated tentpoles like Deadpool, Logan, and this month’s The Suicide Squad, Garcia says the Seven Bucks team always wanted Black Adam to be PG-13 for maximum audience potential.

“The beauty is that it doesn’t need to be an R rated movie,” he says. “That was on the table, but I think if you look back at like The Dark Knight, that movie was PG-13, but you never felt like you were sacrificing the dark tone of what Batman and Joker and Two-Face were doing. I think that’s very much the way we’re looking at it. We didn’t need to go into an R space. Black Adam will give justice the way he feels appropriately and people typically don’t walk away from the justice he gives out. So we fully are honoring that.”

Garcia says Johnson’s team couldn’t be happier with how Black Adam is turning out after years and years of development. The hope is it’s the beginning of something bigger; Johnson and Garcia have both said the movie will disrupt “the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe,” and they’re laser-focused on “getting the Black Adam universe kind of going, affectionately calling it ‘JSA.’”

This is a bigger deal than it may seem. For all the enormous projects the actor has led over the years, few have actually been franchise-starters, which Garcia says was intentional. “DJ gets pulled in so many different ways, and he has such an abundance of options,” he says, “And there is a real desire from our partners who say, ‘Please, can we do a sequel’ but we’re often just happy with the stories we’ve told. Otherwise, there would be multiple Journey to Mysterious Islands and Rampages and San Andreses, and so forth.”

Garcia says after the one-two punch of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Jumanji: The Next Level has led Seven Bucks to turn their attention to a third movie, which they’re discussing now. There’s also hope for a sequel to Hobbs & Shaw, Johnson’s Fast and the Furious spinoff. But the real hope for Garcia, a comic book nerd who nurtures giant projects for one of the biggest stars on the planet, the current mission is about turning Black Adam into an undeniable blockbuster force.

“This has always been my thing,” he says. “It’s a dream to have a big swing at the DC universe, and introduce the JSA. Hopefully, knock on wood, it’s received so that we can expand the storytelling within this universe.”

Black Adam is currently set to hit theaters on July 29, 2022.