Hours in front of the mirror were wasted by me and mine as we tried to perfect Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s trademark eyebrow, fantasizing about one day growing into a similar leviathan of a being.
Yet far from being content with his status as King of the Ring, our muse sought greener pastures, and proved that he also packed a Hollywood punch. Since the early Naughties Johnson has delighted fans across the globe with his unpretentious movie roles, embracing the fun of side of cinema with reams of popcorn pics designed to do nothing other than wholeheartedly entertain.
From The Scorpion King to Luke Hobbs and Mitch Buchannon, Johnson has embraced full-fat characters that have allowed his huge personality to shine and remind audiences that the real point of going to the cinema is to have a good a time – it’s as simple as that. 2017’s Baywatch – an action comedy tribute to the classic 90s TV show – divided folks like Marmite, yet for me was one of Johnson’s finest hours. Opposite Zac Efron, The Brahma Bull did what he does best and took us on a funny action thrill-ride that didn’t take itself too seriously. He did the same with Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot in last year’s Red Notice, and now he’s bringing his brawn and brains to win our hearts afresh with Black Adam.
Yet does this one showcase Dwayne at his dazzling best? Let’s take a closer look...
BLACK ADAM (12A, 125 mins)
Released: October 21 (UK & Ireland)
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. With the notable exception of Christopher Nolan’s brooding Dark Knight trilogy, films torn from the pages of DC Comics have struggled to match the critical and commercial success lavished upon interlinked phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s perhaps inevitable that action-packed adventure Black Adam, a spin-off from the 2019 film Shazam!, should mimic the knockabout tone of the MCU replete with a wisecracking superhero team that comprises dead ringers for Falcon, Dr Strange, Storm and Ant-Man from the crowded ranks of the Avengers and X-Men.
Imitation doesn’t fatally wound director Jaume Collet-Serra’s brawny blockbuster.
This gung-ho gallivant through five thousand years of Middle Eastern uprising strikes a pleasing balance between outlandish slow-motion action sequences, familial angst and irreverence.
A teenage boy dispenses pithy wisdom to Dwayne Johnson’s clueless deity about superhero etiquette – catchphrase first then kill the bad guys – and eagerly appraises the leading man’s gym-toned physique: “Batman, Superman, Aquaman… you’re more stacked than all of them!”
Bigger, maybe, but not better.
The script penned by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani teases gritty emotion (“The world doesn’t always need a white knight. Sometimes it needs something darker…”) but as the film’s 12A certificate indicates, violence is largely implied and blood detail is almost non-existent, even when gun-toting henchmen lose a limb.
In 2600 BC, the power-hungry king of Kahndaq forges a crown from the rare metal eternium to summon and control a skeletal army from the fiery underworld.
Slave Teth Adam (Johnson) dares to oppose the megalomaniacal monarch and a council of wizards rewards the brave champion with immense power.
Alas, Kahndaq’s protector allows grief and vengeance to dictate his actions and the wizards entomb Teth Adam within the Rock of Eternity to protect mankind from his wrath.
Five millennia later, freedom fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer) and young son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) unwittingly release the prisoner with a single word: “Shazam!”
Teth Adam emerges into a city he barely recognises, which has been under military occupation by a criminal organisation called Intergang for 27 years.
The resurrected champion represents a potent threat to political stability and world order so the Justice Society comprising Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) are swiftly despatched to negotiate Teth Adam’s peaceful surrender.
“I’m not peaceful,” he snarls.
Black Adam dials back Johnson’s natural charisma and smile to a persistent glower as he vaporises anyone who threatens the sanctity of Kahndaq and its people.
Pacing is initially sluggish but Hodge and Brosnan provide complementary emotional heartbeats amidst the wanton destruction.
Centineo and Swindell are poorly served and a so-called supervillain is crushingly forgettable; a stepping stone to the tantalising showdown suggested in the obligatory end credits sequence.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (15, 114 mins)
Released: October 21 (UK & Ireland)
Writer-director Martin McDonagh trades three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri for a fractured friendship off the coast of 1920s Ireland in a deliciously barbed comedy with the potential to draw blood at next year’s Academy Awards.
Laced with humour as black as a pint of freshly poured Guinness, The Banshees Of Inisherin uses a simple declaration of discontent – “I just don’t like ya no more” – as the springboard for a close-quarters study of fraying fraternal bonds and bruised male pride.
McDonagh previously cast Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as a veteran hit man and trigger-happy protege in his foul-mouthed 2008 crime caper In Bruges.
The two actors explore similar power dynamics here, armed with verbal grenades that cause maximum damage to their fatefully entwined characters in a close-knit island community where everyone knows a neighbour’s unfortunate business.
Farrell delivers a nuanced, career-best performance as an uncomplicated man of the earth, who is rudely jolted out of a rut by an unexpected parting of ways.
He trades masterfully in a different kind of naivete to Barry Keoghan’s show-stopping village eejit while Gleeson makes every weary sigh land with the force of a below-the-belt punch.
In spring 1923, tranquillity persists on an island off the coast of Ireland as the final deafening roar of civil war reverberates across the mainland.
Dairy farmer Padraic Suilleabhain (Farrell) and sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) live peacefully and unremarkably in the isolated community with their livestock including a cherished donkey called Jenny, surrounded by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Every afternoon, Padraic shares a drink down the local pub with fiddle player Colm Doherty (Gleeson) and exchanges small talk with landlord Jonjo (Pat Shortt).
Out of the blue, Colm tells Padraic that he no longer wishes to be friends or trade pleasantries: “I just don’t have a place for dullness in me life anymore.”
This sudden rejection sends Padraic into an emotional tailspin and he seeks guidance from the local priest.
When Padraic awkwardly engineers a reconciliation, Colm pledges to cut off one of his fingers each time the dairy farmer breaks the silence between them.
Padraic’s response has catastrophic consequences for the islanders including police officer Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon) and his sweetly simple-minded son Dominic (Keoghan).
The Banshees Of Inisherin lines up pints of melodic melancholy, exasperation, dismemberment and full frontal male nudity and we enthusiastically drink the bar dry over the course of two engrossing hours.
Violence is used sparingly and to devastating effect.
No real animals were harmed but creatures on two and four legs suffer most grievously on screen, sometimes by their own trembling yet determined hands.
Colm may be tired of Padraic’s inane chitter-chatter but I have all the time in the world for McDonagh’s expertly created picture.
MY POLICEMAN (15, 113 mins)
Released: October 21 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)
Forbidden romance threatens to tear a marriage apart in a period drama based on the book by Bethan Roberts, which has been adapted for the screen by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia).
Directed by Michael Grandage, My Policeman oscillates between the 1950s when homosexuality is illegal and men conduct their affairs under a cloak of darkness, and the 1990s when sins of the past have inflicted deep wounds that may never heal.
In post-war Brighton, schoolteacher Marion (Emma Corrin) is smitten with policeman Tom (Harry Styles).
Tom introduces Marion to museum curator Patrick (David Dawson), who shares many of her cultural passions.
She is blissfully unaware that Tom is closeted and is exploring his sexuality with Patrick behind closed doors.
Four decades later, Tom (Linus Roache) and Marion (Gina McKee) are married and living in Newhaven.
She invites an incapacitated Patrick (Rupert Everett) to live with them while he recuperates from a stroke.