“Black Adam” Editor Mike Sale Breaks Down That Epic Justice Society Fight
Black Adam editor Mike Sale, who worked alongside editor John Lee, says they wanted to make a film where the title character, played by the ever-magnetic Dwayne Johnson, did not turn into a hero by its end, which, as far as superhero blockbusters go, is decidedly not the norm. What they wanted to do was develop a narrative that plays into what is good (or evil) and how perspective can frame that viewpoint. The theme is finely threaded throughout director Jaume Collet-Serra’s film, leaving you on edge, wondering who will be left standing—and whether you can root for Johnson’s enigmatic, hugely powerful Black Adam.
We first learn that Black Adam, or Teth Adam as he’s called until the climatic final sequence, has been entombed for 5,000 years for using his divine powers for vengeance. Now released, thanks to some timely hieroglyphic reading from Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), he’s back hovering in the streets of Kahndaq, where its people look at him as a grand champion. As told by Adrianna’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), their hope is to be freed from a villainous group known as Intergang that has taken over their village. But when Black Adam begins to flex his muscles, the Justice Society – Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) step in to stop him.
But sorry, Justice Society, this is Black Adam. He’s going to do what he wants.
The epic fight that ensues is a delicate balance of exposition, character introduction, and action that is a masterclass in superhero editing. The scene demanded heavy lifting from visual effects, but it all started out in preproduction with a detailed previs from additional editor Krisztian Majdik. The team benefited from a production delay due to the pandemic allowing Collet-Serra to spend more time in the previs stage.
“We brought Krisztian on as an additional editor through post, so instead of this divide between picture editors and the previs editors, there was this amazing continuity,” says Sale. “The reason why we could elevate that scene to that level was because we had the storytellers and the people designing all those great fight moments working together all the way through post.”
The sequence is a firestorm of heroics as each member of the Justice Society is introduced, wielding their immense powers. None more impressive than Doctor Fate recreating the entire city of Kahndaq as it was long ago as a distraction for Hawkman to pummel Black Adam. When Cyclone enters the fight, a storm of debris and scaffolding is lifted into the air like a feather blowing in the wind. She shoots the metal pieces toward Black Adam, creating a cell-like prison. And for the pièce de résistance, a gigantic Atom Smasher rushing in to smash Black Adam into the ground underneath his palm…
Sale and Lee tightened and tweaked the sequence, piecing together the finishing touches, including moments of comic relief like when Atom realizes he’s running in the wrong direction to the fight. Music from Lorne Balfe added a layer to each character’s theme as the editors wanted to “give everyone a hero moment” in the action. The editors also asked for specific visual effects shots to tie up loose ends and removed storylines that didn’t focus on the fight among the heroes. For example, an earlier cut had more of the Kahndaq people involved, but it was “pared down to keep it cleaner.” The motif in cutting the non-stop action was to keep the audience guessing about who was going to prevail. “We wanted to make it murky but not confusing,” notes Sale.
Black Adam works because it tells a different type of story in the superhero genre. It leaves it up to the audience to decide who’s good, who’s bad, and who deserves to win… until the very end.
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Featured image: Caption: (L-r) DWAYNE JOHNSON as Black Adam and ALDIS HODGE as Hawkman in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “BLACK ADAM,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures