5-Word 365 #218 – Black Lightning

We’re back to subtitles for this week’s weirdness. Not Asia though; join me as I journey to the beautiful city of Moscow and watch a flick about a flying car.

Black Lightning

Screw the laws of physics.

Moscow student Dmitriy gets his first car as a birthday present from his parents: a 1966 Volga. Unknown to Dmitriy, this is no ordinary Volga. The scientists behind an old Soviet defence project to develop a super-efficient fuel used it for testing, hiding their “nanocatalyser” device inside its engine. Oh yeah, they also gave it rocket boosters, so it can fly. At home and at college, he is just Dmitriy, but when he gets behind the wheel of his Volga, Dmitriy becomes the vigilante hero Black Lightning.

Imagine a cross between SpidermanIron Man and Green Hornet in Russian and you’ve pretty much got this one figured out. Every beat of the story can be traced back to one of those three but the film has such charm and a good-natured lack of shame about what a rip-off it is, that I couldn’t help but be swept up in it. It helps that the script by Dmitriy Aleinikov, Aleksandr Talal, Aleksandr Voitinskiy and Mikhail Vrubel is one of the most tightly plotted I have come across in a while. Nothing is wasted here, and nothing feels shoehorned in. All the big dramatic moments have been properly foreshadowed and everything that has been set up gets the appropriate pay-off.

Dmitriy’s old man. If I called him the Uncle Ben, would that be a massive spoiler?

The fact that this is an original concept certainly works in its favour. Known quantities bring with them expectations so – even though this is clearly inspired by other, more well-known properties – Black Lightning has some freedom to try new things and go in new directions without having to risk pissing off the faithful. Unfortunately, co-directors Alexandr Voitinsky and Dmitry Kiseliov don’t grasp that opportunity as strongly as they could have. It is fun and entertaining and all that jazz, but it could have been a lot more.

The cast, led by Grigori Dobrigin as Peter Parker Dmitriy, Ekaterina Vilkova as his girlfriend Nastya and Viktor Verzhbitsky (Night Watch and Day Watch) as his nemesis Kuptsov all do their parts without winking at the audience. There is some humour in the story, and one kinda fun running gag, but the main plot (Kuptsov trying to get the nano-macguffin-thing to power a massive underground drill that will destroy the city) is played straight.

Not the most ideal parking spot in the world…

Actually you could argue there are two main plots, as the ongoing travails of Dmitriy and Nastya and their friend Max at college are given just as much screen time as the flying car shenanigans. Personally, I liked these parts. They helped to flesh out the characters, in particular showing how being Black Lightning was having an positive effect on Dmitriy’s personality generally. It also helps you get a bit more invested in the inevitable moment when Nastya is taken captive by the evil mastermind, although the resolution is not quite as life-threatening as it might have been.

As you would expect for a movie produced by Timur (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) Bekmambetov, the car effects are pretty good for a low budget movie. The drill bit (pardon the pun) is still impressive but distinctly less realistic. Overall, the atypical setting and solid performances bring a little freshness to a seen-it-all-before story; two positives that will both be entirely undone by the proposed US remake, which Bekmambetov himself was slated to direct back in 2010. Thankfully there has been little if any mention of this redundancy since then.

5 comments

  1. Bubbawheat · August 6, 2012

    I have actually noticed this DVD at my local video store a while back, but never realized it was a Russian film. It’s definitely going on the list, sounds like fun.

  2. mhuard5 · August 6, 2012

    I just rewatched (and reviewed) this a couple weeks ago. Really fun film. I’m glad you enjoyed it

    • Ryan McNeely · August 6, 2012

      Yeah, I saw some trailers when it first came out, but it was your review that put it back in my mind. Then I saw it was on instant watch and… the rest is history.

  3. mistylayne · August 7, 2012

    This sounds pretty cool! 🙂

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