Yes, You Know There’s a Scene During the “Black Adam” End Credits

Dwayne Johnson IS Black Adam!

The People’s Furrowed Brow.

Longtime MCC readers may recall a quainter era when sitting through the end credits of every single film used to be my thing, a longtime viewing habit I share with my wife that the resulting traffic stats kept encouraging me to indulge here. Sometimes that still works for me, as borne out in the first few months of 2022 when search engine users wouldn’t stop clicking on my months-old, disposable entries for Venom 2 and Encanto. (The latter didn’t even have an end credits scene — just a single fancy clip-art image that amused me. And yet, for weeks strangers kept clicking and clicking and clicking, like hundreds of twitchy-fingered Energizer Bunnies.)

Now every geek-news site has at least one fan-writer on retainer who’s more than willing to sacrifice ten extra minutes of their lives to sit all the way through films in case of any clickbait opportunities. I can’t fault those gig-economy freelancers for getting paid to crank out what I’ve been giving away for free for ten years now. Nice work if you can network with the right people to get it.

For the sake of my mental health and sensible allocation of my free-time resources, I try not to treat the end-credits thing as a competition. If I did, after last Sunday’s nonstop busyness I’d have been neck-deep in despair the next morning when the scene during the Black Adam end credits took mainstream entertainment headlines by storm. The sincerely shocking surprise had already been ruined online by boorish bigmouths over a week earlier, but after opening weekend Warner Brothers and Dwayne Johnson jointly decided it was cool to spread the same major spoiler to anyone with narrower internet feeds who’d missed out. So my pro bono end-credits monitoring services aren’t needed here.

Fun trivia, though: did you know if you pay to see the scene during the Black Adam end credits in theaters, you also get a whole movie for free? It’s true! It’s called Black Adam. I sat through that too, for better or worse. It’s miles ahead of the worst thing I’ve seen in theaters so far this year, and a few streets ahead of Justice League, but it isn’t making my Top 10.

Before the end-credits hubbub, Black Adam was on track to be huge even without its attention boost. DC producers resorted to an approach they’ve tried in the past, one that’s anathema to Marvel’s underlying bean-counter ethos: they recruited an A-list star who was already earning eight-figure paychecks to headline a big-screen adaptation. Granted, this seemingly surefire technique failed with Ben Affleck and Daredevil, but it worked years later for Dawn of Justice. Sometimes timing is everything.

But habitual world champion Dwayne Johnson is no mere Affleck. Johnson is three months older, three inches taller, and dozens of pounds more muscular than Affleck. and has racked up enormous successes beyond just the one medium. While we’re making pointlessly unfair intra-generational comparisons, Johnson is also only fifteen days older than me and has made far healthier lifestyle choices, thus ensuring he tops me in every conceivable arena of life except in my wife’s heart…unless some crackpot YouTuber one day needs an anchor for their zero-budget fan-biopic of the Suicide Squad’s guy-in-the-chair. I’d prefer not to, but I’m available. So that’d be two winning life arenas for me, total.

Anyway: Super-Rock: The Motion Picture begins bombastically yet earnestly in ancient times, when Teth-Adam was but a mere slave in Kahndaq, one of the DC universe’s 600 fictional Eastern Hemisphere countries. (See also: Qurac, Bialya, Markovia, and probably Ra’s al Ghul’s secret birthplace that’s never emerged from witness protection.) When the oppressive regime is at its worst — enabled by its tyrant’s custom-made power-relic, a MacGuffin called the Crown of Sabbac — the wizard Shazam descended unto them from the Rock of Eternity and bestowed great powers upon a hero who might deliver Kahndaq from evil. Welcome special guest Djimon Hounsou reprising his role in two cameos, a DC world-building reminder that Black Adam is technically a prequel/spinoff of that mostly more whimsical film, exactly like Johnson’s Scorpion King was spun off from and set before The Mummy 3.

The day is saved thanks to Shazam’s electrically supercharged delegate for about five minutes, but ultimately Evil turns the tables and poor Teth-Adam (Johnson’s head CG-pasted onto a wimpier bod) is trapped in magical hibernation for the next five millennia. Fast-forward to today: Kahndaq hasn’t been wiped off the map, but suffers the heartache of sustained incursion from mercenary interlopers calling themselves Intergang. The name feels silly when said aloud with a grim expression, evoking a mental image of a Jets/Sharks business co-op with neckties and accounting ledgers, but that name was coined by the Jack Kirby and is therefore diplomatically immune to critique.

For 27 miserable years Intergang has overrun Kahndaq with impunity and with no signs of interference or slightest concern from the outside world despite protestations from its own native populace. One can brainstorm numerous real-world analogs of their situation, of unelected despots run amuck and heavily armed invaders whose dubious claims to power remain perpetually uncontested by any country that could make a difference but chooses not to, for reasons great and small. All those analogs lose their relevance once Teth-Adam is freed from captivity — thanks to a fetch-quest undertaken by a mad-as-heck local archaeologist (Person of Interest‘s Sarah Shahi) — and, with one magic word and a visual-effects team on tap, his heartbreaking tragic tale of family and sacrifice begets a roller-coaster ride of aggro vengeance against…well, not against his family’s murderers who are long dead, but against the mercenaries he’s never met who’ve trampled a country he barely cares about in search of a MacGuffin that has almost nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, he avenges.

Any attempt at a thoughtful examination of how superpowers might bring imbalance to international relations (see also: Watchmen‘s take on how superheroes might’ve affected the Vietnam War, or Marvel’s weaksauce Sokovia Accords, swiftly annulled) is tossed out a ten-story window because director Jaume Collet-Serra — purveyor of four Liam Neeson gun-guy contraptions and Disney’s Jungle Cruise — knows the target audience isn’t here for two hours of UN sanctions and allegorical Oscar-bait. They’re here to see The Rock in DC-owned Spandex punching dudes really hard. He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does is he keeps punching so hard and so fast that no one dares ask him why he shares a chest symbol with TV’s Chuck and whether this makes them thunder-bros.

To his credit, Johnson challenges himself not to take the easy road and define the character through the trademark hunky charm that served him in the Fast/Furious universe and, well, all his other starring roles in the past 20 years. Adam doesn’t emerge from his super-crypt spouting Joss Whedon one-liners. He’s barely in the mood for chitchat. Mostly he glares, threatens, and steamrolls. But these cinema products have rules, and said rules mandate Adam must learn sarcasm. Leave it to DC to recruit a quartet of teachers to show him the ironic ropes, meet the superhero repartee quota, and give him more tackle dummies to pound. Enter the Justice Society, to the delight of elder comics collectors. This is when things get better and worse.

Mind you, this isn’t quite the same Justice Society we’re watching weekly in The CW’s Stargirl, who at least have a fair excuse for being a lousy team this season: they’re a bunch of awkward teens whose best role models are all dead. (Well, except Stripesy, but he isn’t really stepping up with any great hero lectures like we’d get from, say, Barry Allen. He’s more into hesitant post-game folksy advice.) Introduced with very little backstory as government-sponsored pawns of Amanda Waller (cue a cameo from Viola Davis, inexplicably promoted from the Suicide Squad’s black-ops slay-rides), the Justice Society soar into action with heroic sweeping gestures, shiny costumes, a cool team jet, a secret base with a ludicrously impractical 60-piece secret-HQ mega-hatch, and an 80-year-old pop culture legacy that’s never mentioned and scantly implied. Our Heroes attempt to wrest control of the movie from the antihero whose paycheck is larger than all theirs combined, and they proceed to behave like the klutziest super-group this side of the Inferior Five, with all the teamwork and acumen of McHale’s Navy forming their own Seal Team.

To be fair, Hawkman is pretty much in character. Historically he tends to be hotheaded, always ready for a fight, and impatient with lesser peers who don’t keep up. He’s also often been used as a token conservative grump to contrast with Green Arrow’s ’70s hot-topic activist, but the filmmakers discard that and cast him with the much-appreciated Aldis Hodge, costar of Leverage (I’m a fan) as well as Regina King’s great One Night in Miami. Hodge finds room for a modicum of levity within his role as the resident taskmaster who will not put up with nonsense except when the plot demands it of him.

Seeking his begrudging approval are two youngsters bearing inherited hero mantles: Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo from The Fosters), an awkward giant-man who feels one semester short of graduating from Hero Academy; and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell from HBO’s In Treatment), a human tornado who we’re told is also a multi-proficient STEM genius, but whose only noticeable intellectual acts are light team-jet data entry and a fair rebuttal of trite jokes about capes. (She also seems to find Atom Smasher adorkable, which…I mean, really?) We’re given no insight as to why Hawkman thought bringing rookies on a highly sensitive mission across international borders was a good idea.

Then there’s Doctor Fate. Pierce Brosnan affably nails the weathered statesmanship of the resident Super-Grandpa who’s seen it all and ostensibly has volumes of wisdom to dispense. But he’s baffled when Kahndaq’s people are furious toward the team for being the world’s first responders after 27 consecutive years of non-interference. Somehow the drawbacks to international meddling are something he’s never experienced and has never had to think about before. This vaunted sage responds with…oh, wait, he doesn’t. The film’s writers think themselves clever by basing plot turns and speeches on superhero genre nitpicks (fair ones, by and large) that work easily within Idiot Plot constraints. But in order to ensure the right side wins that rigged game, they limit Fate to being only as wise and as experienced as his previous short-sighted writers, rather than challenging themselves to write him as actually wise. If he were that wise, he’d have an answer. Make one up, whether satisfying or not, capture it in a single line, and Bob’s your uncle.

(Fine, I’ll spoon-feed one to you: maybe superheroes stayed out of Kahndaq because they believe mortal affairs should be determined by mortals, rather than superheroes setting themselves up as de facto rulers, a la Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman. Our Heroes only got involved when a superhuman showed up in the mix, and they’re obligated to police their own. Reduce that to a short speech, let Brosnan workshop it for a few takes, and allow that maybe the answer won’t feel perfect to us frustrated mortals, while recognizing that maybe some higher-level superheroes should feel condescending and holier-than-thou in their dissatisfying answers. And they should at least have an answer. All we get here is, more or less, a lecture between the lines: “Superheroes who stay out of international conflicts suck. And that’s…One to Grow On.”)

Their mandatory lectures about “KILLING = BAD”, presumably their primary mission objective, also seem moot when the offender is, in method if not in explicit label, a warrior at war. Or, really, a one-man army who’s doing what armies do best. That’s another paragraph begging for ponderous bloviation. But hey, if politics aren’t your bag, all that gets jettisoned after Act Two anyway, because, again, punchy-punchy. As tonal counterbalance Our Heroes also spend quality time mocking superhero tropes yet leaning into them regardless, though such self-awareness is played out and can be more tiring than the tropes themselves. More importantly, they smash stuff, ultimately doing far more damage to Kahndaq’s infrastructure and numerous city blocks than the mercenaries ever tried. Which, again, I refer you back to that sentence about what armies do best, except the Justice Society aren’t supposed to be acting like an army.

Compared to these would-be do-gooders, Adam’s penchant for ’90s direct-to-VHS vigilante terseness and his straightforward motivation (i.e., just…keep on pulverizin’) feel almost refreshing. Almost. I couldn’t stop giggling as the punches got louder, the cliches piled up, Hawkman’s Nth-metal armor did a lot of heavy lifting, one of Doctor Fate’s prophecies led to an outcome predictable by us simple humans from leagues away, and Things That Make Sense are outnumbered by Things That Look Awesome. Maybe my giggling was set off by the hypocrisy of the Justice Society giving a turgid speech about due process, only to end Act Two by consigning Adam to super-Guantanamo captivity without a trial. Or maybe it was Adam’s by-the-numbers return to action for the grand finale, backed by surging symphonic guitar machismo. Or maybe it’s because Johnson and Collet-Serra ably pull off the pro wrestling trick of merging surface-level dead seriousness with underlying tongue-in-cheekiness and concocting unabashed, old-fashioned superhuman razzle-dazzle in the one-dimensional yet nonetheless fondly recalled comics tradition of yore.

Admittedly some of the thrill-ride stunt spectaculars are better-looking than others. In one early sequence of Adam-vs.-soldiers, the camera sticks so closely to Adam’s side during a lengthy round of explosive carnage that it’s impossible to tell his slo-mo actions are slowly adding up to one gargantuan but clumsy riff on Quicksilver’s Rube Goldberg sequences from the X-films until we reach its synchronized payoff, which gets muddled by smoke and flames. At other times, the right brain cheers the reckless cheesiness over the left brain’s fussy objections.

And of course Black Adam embraces the hoariest trope of all: the part where all the titans who’ve been clashing for 90 straight minutes agree to set aside their differences and team up against the real villain. At long last Our Antihero is given blanket permission to save the day by any means necessary, which might be more chilling if the film had any mortal henchman left by then. Their ranks are supplanted by a classic Shazam villain whose name I’ve already mentioned but whose upgraded Big Bad design, while topping Steppenwolf’s in every respect, may also have explained some of my giggling. In the face of rebooted Fawcett Comics villainy, even the kid who was mad at the Justice Society for being mean to his Kahndaqi idol suddenly becomes their #1 fan based solely on the abruptly negotiated enemy-of-my-enemy-is-our-friend uneasy truce.

Black Adam isn’t the only superficial big-screen super-epic that Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority foresaw and satirized in advance. Large portions of this musclebound crowd-pleaser answer the unasked question of how it would’ve felt to have Hitch draw a comic written by Rob Liefeld. Still other portions rank higher on a less finicky popcorn-flick scale. For those who roll like that, Adam definitely offers 60% more super-punching than the average Marvel film at the same price. That’s a lot of super-punching in this economy.

Precious few readers will have stuck with me this far, especially any stragglers who are just searching for those precious end-credits details that are pretty much anywhere online. But for those who’ve continued the journey with me, rest assured if there’s a scene after the Tár end credits that totally sets up Tár 2: Tár V. Feáther, maybe you’ll hear it from me first here on Midlife Crisis Crossover!

Meanwhile in the customary MCC film breakdowns:

Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Other actors I’ve seen before include Marwan Kenzari (The Old Guard, Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express) as a colleague of Shahi’s whose movements you’ll easily predict because he’s playing a pretty traditional role. Blink and you’ll miss Jennifer Holland returning from The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker as Waller support staff. But my favorite surprise is a two-line cameo-by-phone from TV’s Henry Winkler as the “original” Atom Smasher, even though in comics Atom Smasher’s predecessor was his uncle, the Atom. (Related last-minute tangent: the teenage Infinity Inc. fan in me, who also claps a lot during Stargirl, wishes they’d used Atom Smasher’s original name, Nuklon. And that they’d kept his dated red mohawk.)

And then there’s that last scene…

How about those end credits? You’re still here? Cool, thanks! Let’s go through the motions:

To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the Black Adam end credits. For those who tuned out prematurely and really want to know, and aren’t in the mood to search YouTube for the bootleg copy of the day…

[…insert space for courtesy spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship…]

…as Adam stands and glowers in the post-climax rubble, a drone flies in and starts a video chat with Amanda Waller. She warns him she’s been watching, and that he’d best stay inside Kahndaq’s borders Or Else. He doesn’t actually know her and is all like “Bring it on” and whatnot. He blows up the pesky drone.

Then in strolls Henry Cavill, whose best film to date is Mission Impossible: Fallout, suited up once again as Superman. Many of us viewers had given up hoping for further adventures and assumed Warner Bros. would either recast the part with someone inferior or pretend Superman no longer exists.

Supes tells Adam, “It’s been a while since anyone’s made the world this nervous…Black Adam. We should talk.” End of scene.

How will DC producers let Superman weasel out of his morally upright duty to throw Black Adam back in super-jail? Find out sometime in the next five DC films!

About that, though: in those aforementioned headlines of last Monday and on social media, a professionally ebullient Johnson took credit for bringing Superman back, as if every WB exec had been insisting on keeping the Man of Steel mothballed, until The Rock had had enough, wrangled their collective tiny heads into a single full-nelson death grip and demanded they let him and his star vehicle be Henry Cavill’s herald back into the DCEU realm. Or Else.

Honestly, as a kid who saw Christopher Reeve fly at the drive-in when I was a wee tyke, I don’t care who to thank. Can we just get a good Superman film? One that inspires me to write this much about it for happy reasons?

What do you, The Viewers at Home, think?

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