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The Ending Of Black Adam Explained

Contains spoilers for "Black Adam."

Although most superhero stories feature reluctant heroes learning to embrace their powers and fulfill their responsibilities to the world, DC's "Black Adam" shifts gears. It's the story of an anti-hero, someone who was never meant to be a hero and has no intention of being one, slowly realizing that he can use his abilities for more than murdering anyone standing in his way.

From start to finish, "Black Adam" explores the themes of what does and doesn't make a hero. First, we learn about the enslaved people of ancient Kahndaq who dared not challenge their ruler Anh-Kot, despite the fact that they outnumbered him. One boy named Hurut spoke up and inspired his people, becoming the hero Teth-Adam after being given powers by the council of wizards.

5,000 years later, Kahndaq is again ruled by tyrants and Adam has returned — but he's not interested in playing the hero. It takes the efforts of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and a classic superhero team consisting of Doctor Fate, Hawkman, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher to find out why Adam (Dwayne Johnson) isn't the hero everyone expects him to be, and to prove to him that he can do some good in this world. Let's break down how he goes from anti-hero to willing protector by discussing all the plot elements that come together in an explosive third act to help explain the ending of "Black Adam."

The power of Shazam

If you saw the 2019 film "Shazam" then you may recall the scene in which Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is first transported to the Rock of Eternity to meet the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). As Billy tries to make sense of what's going on, Shazam explains that he is the last of the council of wizards and he is looking for someone pure of heart to pass his powers onto in order to protect humanity from the seven deadly sins (which are embodied as some pretty terrifying monsters). The reason he has to be so picky is because the last time the power was passed to someone ... it didn't go so well.

We learn a bit more about that in this film, because Black Adam (or Teth-Adam as he's originally called) is the reason Shazam has to be careful about who gets the powers. Bestowed with the stamina of Shu, the speed of Horus, the strength of Amon, the wisdom of Zehuti, the Powers of Aten, and the courage of Mehen, Adam used his incredible powers to seek revenge on the ruler of Kahndaq, instead of being the hero the seven wizards intended.

The story of "Black Adam" is about the character gradually getting to a place mentally where he can embody some of the attributes the wizards were looking for. However, since he was not the one they initially chose to wield the power, he will never become a traditional hero.

The wrong man for the job

5,000 years after Teth Adam brought down Anh-Kot, a woman named Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) releases him from his prison by speaking the words engraved on the seal trapping him in some kind of limbo state. The second he shows up, Adam goes on a lightning-spitting rampage as he kills the soldiers coming at him with guns and tanks, and all sorts of useless weapons.

Since the legends say that Teth Adam would return when Kahndaq needs him most, everyone naturally assumes that this super-strong guy who looks like the statue they built thousands of years ago is there to rescue them from Intergang (the military force that has occupied Kahndaq in order to mine for Eternium). Unfortunately, they couldn't be more wrong. The only reason Adam has killed those men is because they were in his way and they were attacking him — he has no intention of saving anyone.

This doesn't fit with all the legends they've heard, and there's a good reason for that: this isn't the Teth-Adam the wizards initially chose to have their powers. They selected the boy Hurut (Jalon Christian), who was the son of the man currently carrying the name Teth-Adam. Hurut gave his powers to his father to protect him, but was assassinated shortly after. Therefore, the man flying around modern-day Kahndaq is a broken father who's lost the only thing he's ever loved, and who sees his own existence as a curse.

Delayed justice

The Justice Society of America (a precursor to the Justice League) is called in to take Adam into custody because he poses a threat to the safety of the United States and every other country in the world if he were to suddenly decide he'd like to rule the world. As was discussed in "Shazam," Black Adam's rage and thirst for vengeance released the seven deadly sins upon the world, resulting in six of the seven wizards getting obliterated and entire civilizations being wiped out.

Despite being the "good guys," the Justice Society has inherited Amanda Waller's sanctimonious attitude when it comes to what heroes can and cannot do. Aside from continuously lecturing Adam on proper heroic etiquette, they also just assume that the people of Kahndaq are going to step aside because they're the ones with the superpowers, therefore they know best.

However, this is a country that has been invaded and occupied for years, and not once did the Justice Society (or anyone else) come to help. They're not too keen on the idea of these folks rolling in and taking away their champion. Only after the JSA can learn to work with Adam and the citizens of Kahndaq are they able to get any work done. We see that at the end, when instead of charging in and destroying things, Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) use their powers to work in tandem with the people.

An unreliable narrator

When "Black Adam" opens, we're given a very detailed breakdown of everything that went down in Kahndaq in the year 2600 BC, thanks to a voiceover from the character Amon Tomaz (Bodhi Sabongul). He tells us all about how a magical element called Eternium can be found in Kahndaq, and that an ancient ruler had his slaves dig for the element in order to forge the Crown of Sabbac so he could wield ultimate power. However, Black Adam took the crown and destroyed his empire. 

In this prologue, we see Hurut with an old man, but once we get the full story, we realize that the old man was actually the boy's father, and he looks remarkably like Black Adam. While a tad confusing at first, this actually demonstrates just how much of Kahndaq's past and resources had been coopted by outside forces over the centuries. When the Justice Society explains they've had access to ancient texts that say Black Adam was a destroyer instead of a hero, Amon's mother Adrianna doesn't believe them.

It is very likely that people have been coming to Kahndaq and stealing from it so much, that even its own history is incomplete. Therefore, when we see Amon's story, what we're seeing is his interpretation of events, not the events as they actually unfolded. This stands as yet another reason why Kahndaq needs a protector: to keep their history intact.

Visiting Task Force X

When the truth comes out that Black Adam isn't the hero of legend, he agrees to go with the JSA to be locked up forever. He doesn't want these powers anymore, since he never felt worthy of them to begin with. He makes the JSA promise that after he says "Shazam" and transforms back to his original form, they will never allow him to speak the word again. He is tired of carrying this burden and welcomes the idea of being free of it, even if that means being locked up.

They take him to an underwater Task Force X prison run by Amanda Waller. She, of course, is the director of A.R.G.U.S, an agency that engages in numerous clandestine missions across the globe to make sure superhumans do not threaten the security of the United States. Task Force X is a division of A.R.G.U.S. where imprisoned villains in the DC Universe are used to carry out many of those missions in exchange for time off of their sentences. (You might remember them better as The Suicide Squad.)

When the members of the JSA arrive, they're greeted by Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland). Fans of the HBO series "Peacemaker" will likely remember her as an NSA agent working for Waller in that series and in the film "The Suicide Squad." She points out that the Gods were meant to be humanity's heroes, but humanity seems to be the one always burying them. All of this suggests that Task Force X is powerful enough to control Adam.

Fate doesn't make mistakes

Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is a man with a thousand storm clouds swirling over his head at all times, as the sentient Alien Helmet of Nabu he wears reveals every possible version of the future. He knows that the future is unwritten, but due to circumstances out of his control, he can't always predict which series of events will unfold. His job is to step in and make sure that the decisions made by the JSA result in the best possible outcome.

Throughout much of the film, he is dreading the completion of the mission because he knows the version of events where they save the day requires his friend Hawkman to die. When Sabbac rises from the underworld to conquer Earth, Fate knows the "happy" ending is approaching, but he's not about to let Hawkman go. He steps in and sacrifices himself.

While doing that, he uses his power to be in two places at once to free Adam, because he knows Adam is the only one powerful enough to defeat Sabbac. He tells Adam that he should accept his abilities because "Fate doesn't make mistakes," and at that moment Doctor Fate has literally chosen Adam to save humanity — whether he wants it or not. Fate's sacrifice also allows Hawkman to hold the helmet in order to multiply himself and distract Sabbac, turning the tide of the battle.

The rise and fall of Sabbac

The antagonist of the film is a man named Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari). At first, he appears to be working with Adrianna to help free Kahndaq, but he's actually looking for the Crown of Sabbac. No one really knows why he wants it, so they check the engraving within it, only to find that it reads that life is the only road to death, which seems obvious. What they don't know is that the power from the crown comes from the underworld, which serves as a dark reflection of our world. This means the inscription is really telling them that death is the only road to life.

Ishmael wants to crown because he is the descendent of King Anh-Kot, and only his bloodline can wear the crown and use its power. When Ishmael gets the crown, he is killed and sent to the underworld, where six demons (like grim versions of the seven wizards) grant him the evil version of Black Adam's power, and he rises from that realm to command an undead army to conquer the world.

Black Adam is the only one who can stop him. After briefly visiting the afterlife, where his son tells him it isn't his time yet, Adam returns to Kahndaq and battles Sabbac. While he handles that, ordinary citizens (and the JSA) fight his skeleton army. Finally, Adam rips Sabbac in half, destroying the crown and Sabbac's power, at last freeing Kahndaq — for now, that is.

The heroes of Khandaq

As the dust begins to settle and everyone realizes the battle has been won, the question posed to Adam is whether or not he is willing to be Kahndaq's hero. He destroys the throne meant for their savior because it feels wrong. Even after 5,000 years of imprisonment, Adam knows that Kahndaq doesn't need a ruler — it needs people who are willing to work together to return it to its former glory.

"Kahndaq already has heroes," he says, having met people like Adrianna and her son Amon who believe in Kahndaq and want to see it thrive again. Their hearts and intentions are pure, unlike his own. This goes back to the start of the film, when Hurut stresses the need for everyone to stand up and fight their enslavers when everyone else (including his father) is too scared.

Adrianna and Amon are this generation's version of Hurut. With Intergang gone and Sabbac killed, they can organize the citizens to work together. While that's going on, Kahndaq still needs a protector, someone who can stand in the way when an invading force shows up looking to occupy them again. That is the role Adam is more comfortable with, because he still isn't one for rescuing people. He will not save Kahndaq, but he will punish and destroy anyone who thinks they can invade it. This is a sign that he is moving away from being a total anti-hero and compromising a little bit.

Black Adam Begins

Adam is released from his prison and enters a world already flush with super-powered beings capable of incredible feats. Amon is totally a superhero fanboy (a la Freddy Freeman from "Shazam") who carries comic books in his backpack and papered his walls with posters of all his favorite icons. When he meets Adam, he wastes no time trying to coach him on how to be a hero.

His suggestions include using a catchphrase like "Tell them the man in black sent you" and changing his name, because Teth-Adam is old fashioned. Adam is reluctant to change because he doesn't see himself as a hero, but something about Amon sticks with him. He uses the catchphrase (though his timing is terrible) and even agrees to change his name. This also proves that his experiences with Amon and the JSA have shown him that he can be more than just a vessel for punishment.

By the end of the film, Adam has been reborn: his suit is more vibrant, he's been encouraged by the spirit of his son to do more, and he even changes his name to Black Adam. Thus, he is more reminiscent of the character we know from the comics: a character capable of doing good, but with dubious morals and the potential to go from good to evil depending on the situation. This is, perhaps, why Amanda Waller isn't very happy about him not remaining in her underwater prison.

Black Adam v Superman

Once the end credit sequence comes to a close, we fade up to see a drone descending from the sky before Black Adam. A hologram of Amanda Waller projects from the device and she, as usual, doesn't look happy. She tells him that since he won't be staying in her prison, he is required to remain in Kahndaq. If he steps beyond its borders, she'll make sure it's the last thing he ever does.

Since he isn't fond of serving a master, Adam tells her no one on Earth can stop him. She threatens to "call in a favor" with beings from other planets. He tells her to send them all. The hologram ends and we see Superman (Henry Cavill) emerge from the shadows. He tells Adam that it's been a while since anyone has frightened the people of Earth quite as much as he has, suggesting that Black Adam's presence is akin to the arrival of Superman himself.

Although he says he just wants to talk, Black Adam's penchant for foregoing discussion in favor of violence pretty much guarantees their conversation will not go well. Perhaps that means the sequel could feature a fight between Black Adam and Superman engaged in combat. Hopefully, a potential "Black Adam 2" can also explain why Superman would do favors for someone like Waller, given her shady tactics. Perhaps she didn't send him and he really did just come to talk.