According to Dwayne Johnson, bringing Black Adam to the big screen was a struggle from beginning to end. And one which he could not have accomplished without his heel-ready wrestling image, The Rock.
Black Adam’s roots are nearly as old as The Rock’s WWE career, which concluded with a third heel turn flavored with Hollywood celebrity. In 2007, Johnson initiated discussions with New Line Cinema on a possible Shazam film. At the time, the wrestler-turned-actor had appeared in The Scorpion King, The Rundown, and the family-friendly Gridiron Gang, and the film, which would tell the story of both Shazam (aka Captain Marvel) and Black Adam, was intended to have a lighter tone under the supervision of comedy director Peter Segal (who would go on to work with Johnson on Get Smart). Johnson was reportedly courted for the role of Shazam, but felt Black Adam had greater potential. However, the film would sit for a decade in Development Hell. According to Johnson, the version that will be released in October is “absolutely nothing” like the initial concept for the character.
“The movie that was finally delivered after years and years of deliberation, of conversation, of fighting, was Shazam and Black Adam, in one movie, trying to tell both origin stories within 100 minutes,” Johnson tells Polygon. “And it felt like it was just thrown together. It didn’t feel like it had the priority and respect that both characters and both origin stories needed.”
Johnson says that despite all the back and forth, a script for the dual-lead film was only finished six or seven years ago. The draft prompted him to call Warner Bros. executives and challenge the entire notion of the project.
“I said, ‘I think we really have to go in another direction. I think we should split this up and make two movies,’” Johnson recalls. “[The script] was funnier, and that made it really tricky. The Black Adam that we saw on our side, the Seven Bucks [Johnson’s production company] side, was that Black Adam was brutal and was intense and was really fucking pissed. He lost his family, wiped away. That’s his rage. And that was hard when we’re trying to establish that [tone] and we have a whole other thing here — and with a lot of kids!”
Black Adam brings Johnson to a rougher frequency. In spite of the fact that his career is peppered with PG blockbusters (Race to Witch Mountain, Tooth Fairy, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and for-all-audiences tentpoles (the Jumanji films, Skyscraper, Red Notice), his early films exhibit Rock DNA. The gruff hero of his Walking Tall remake, the unhinged action star in Southland Tales, and even his early outings as Luke Hobbs in the Fast series all leaned into a nastier streak comparable to The Rock’s feather-ruffling ring character. Bringing genuine wrath to Black Adam and a force that may (as Johnson has stated numerous times in the press) alter “the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe” could be the apex of this.
When I ask Johnson if he drew inspiration from his days as The Rock, notably from his 1998 heel turn that allied him with Vince McMahon and transformed him into the “Corporate Champion,” he laughs. I adore that you stated that.
It’s been over two decades since Johnson was a full-time wrestler, yet he still finds it worthwhile to reflect on his WWE character. “The Rock” played a significant influence in moving Black Adam away from what he may have been in 2007 — and possibly closer to what fans of the DC world and Johnson are actually seeking.
“When I was a heel, and when I made that heel turn… people may not have agreed with my ‘why,’ and they may not have agreed with the things that I would do. At that time, wrestling was a lot different. The Attitude Era was much more violent. We got away with a lot of shit that you could not get away with today. While people may not have agreed with the heel Rock, they all understood why he was doing what he was doing because I had the opportunity to talk about it — and talk shit in that way that The Rock did. So there were a lot of parallels there. The connection to Black Adam is that while you may not agree and you may interpret him as a supervillain, antihero, protector, even a superhero… you may not agree with his philosophy, but everyone understands.”
With Rock-like swagger, getting Black Adam to screen involved a combination of muscle and big talk. From the decision to make a stand-alone Black Adam movie in the first place, to the inclusion of the Justice Society and other recognizable DC Comics faces, Johnson says it took his team years to push their vision to screen.
“We fought for a long time, and we weren’t gonna take ‘no’ for an answer,” Johnson says. “And here we are.”