After a long, long journey, Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam is ready to make his debut.

It’s been more than a decade since the Rock first spoke about wanting to play the DC antihero, a morally ambiguous, 5,000-year-old warrior with godlike abilities. Now Black Adam is finally hitting theaters Oct. 21, and Warner Bros. has unveiled the first trailer, showcasing the full extent of Johnson’s powers. (RIP to that guy who gets flung into the ocean.)

EW spoke to director Jaume Collet-Serra — who’s reuniting with Johnson after working together on Jungle Cruise — to talk about bringing Black Adam to the screen. Here, he breaks down key moments from that explosive first trailer.

A new (anti)hero

Black Adam may be making his big-screen debut, but the character has a long, complicated history in the comics. He first popped up in 1945 as an ancient and corrupt supervillain, who was given extraordinary powers by the wizard Shazam. Over the years, Adam has evolved from Shazam supervillain to morally murky antihero, and Collet-Serra says that when Johnson first approached him about directing on the set of Jungle Cruise, it was that ambiguity that fascinated him most.

“When I started reading about Black Adam, I became really interested in how unconventional of a character he is,” Collet-Serra recalls. “Is he a hero? Is he a villain? Is he an antihero? He has such a unique story, and he goes well with my style and view of the world in general. In a world where not everything is black or white, you need a superhero like him to operate in the gray area, who has his own moral code.”

Johnson has long had an affinity for the character, and he’s worked to bring Black Adam to the screen for years. Collet-Serra says he was most excited to see Johnson tackle a complex, brooding character with restrained intensity — a far cry from the wisecracking con artist he played in Jungle Cruise.

“It’s always cliché to say that someone was born to play a role, but in this case, it’s true,” the director says. “The movie happened because of him. He’s the energy and the push that got this movie made. Even if it took him a long time to fulfill this dream of his, I think that it’s been worth the wait.”

Plus, Collet-Serra adds with a laugh, the benefit of casting Johnson is that you never need to sew fake muscles into his super-suit: “He doesn’t need any padding!

Family legacy

The trailer begins by introducing a bit of Black Adam’s backstory: About 5,000 years ago, his son sacrificed himself to save his father’s life. Adam has since spent the last few millennia imprisoned, and now that he’s out, he finds himself questioning his responsibility to a world that’s turned its back on him.

Super squad

Adam isn’t the only superhero in town, either. The film will also mark the first big-screen, live-action appearance of the Justice Society of America, the legendary DC superhero team. The superpowered squad has had different lineups over the years, but here it includes Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher, Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone, and Aldis Hodge as Hawkman.

“For me, it’s an honor to introduce the JSA,” Collet-Serra says. “The movie’s called Black Adam, and Black Adam is obviously the main focus, but we got the opportunity to bring in these historic, classic characters like Hawkman and Dr. Fate, who have a wealth of history and are so important in the DC universe.”

The trailer also teases a difference in opinion between Black Adam and the more righteous, law-abiding JSA. When Adam is chastised that “heroes don’t kill people,” he replies with a matter-of-fact rebuttal: “I do.

Flying high with Hawkman

Hodge’s Hawkman is one of the JSA’s high-flying heroes. The golden-winged warrior has long been a DC staple, and he’s popped up before in live-action TV series like Smallville and the Arrowverse shows. But Hodge’s version is the first to make it to live-action film, and Collet-Serra says he wanted to craft a Hawkman who felt both impossibly strong and agile. “He’s not just a man with wings,” the director explains. “He’s like a fighting beast.”

Collet-Serra adds that he and the costume design team worked to build an avian look that felt new but still honored the character’s decades-long history, and Hodge trained for months to prepare for the extensive wirework required to soar through the air.

Fate of the furious

Another notable name is Doctor Fate, a powerful sorcerer who, in the comics, helped found the JSA. James Bond and Mamma Mia alum Brosnan is playing the role, and the trailer teases just how powerful he is. Plus, Collet-Serra says, Brosnan also imbues Fate with yet another superpower: his charisma.

“Dr. Fate is so beloved as a character that you needed somebody who is also beloved as a person,” he explains. “Pierce played him with such warmth and sensitivity, and it just made an irresistible combination.”

Unlike Johnson and Hodge, whose costumes were mostly practical, Brosnan had to adjust to playing a character whose look was largely created in post-production. “His outfit is mostly CG, so he had to become comfortable acting in situations where the visual effects are not there yet,” Collet-Serra says. “He needed to imagine all the spells and things, and he did all that stuff with such conviction, even though there was really nothing there. And when we put in the final visual effects, it just becomes that much more powerful.”

Shazam connection?

In the comics, Black Adam faces off against another hero with a lightning bolt on his chest — but don’t expect him to show up anytime soon. DC originally planned to make Johnson’s Black Adam the villain in Shazam, which starred Zachary Levi as the fresh-faced strongman. Ultimately, though, that script evolved, and instead Black Adam is getting his own moment in the spotlight, as the protagonist of his own story. (Meanwhile a Shazam sequel, Fury of the Gods, is scheduled to hit theaters in December.)

As for how Black Adam may or may not connect to the wider DC universe? Collet-Serra is tight-lipped. “For me, the most important thing was telling Black Adam’s story and also introducing the JSA in an honorable and respectful way, that kind of left people wanting more,” he says. “The focus has always been on Black Adam.”

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