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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Black Lightning
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by Jay Seaver

"Superheroes are the same all over the world."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It may have improved in the two weeks since I headed north for this film festival, but the summer movie line-up for 2010 could be described as uninspiring. It's enough to make me wonder why Universal hasn't found a way to put "Black Lightning" on the schedule. Sure, a subtitled family-friendly adventure film is a tough sell, but it's a fun movie that gets the job done.

Dmitry (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is a bright college student studying business who feels a little outclassed by his wealthier classmates, especially after his friend Maxim (Ivan Zhidkov) seems to be dating pretty new student Nastya (Ekaterina Vilkova) before he can even talk to her. His father (Sergey Garmash) tries to help, getting him a used car for his birthday. It's a Volga DAZ-11, and while it's okay for getting a job delivering flowers, "Dima" is not going to admit that he owns a Soviet-era crapbox to his friends. What he doesn't realize is that this Soviet-era crapbox was salvaged from a secret underground lab, it has a prototype nano-fuel converter... and can fly! Diamond-obsessed billionaire Viktor Kuptsov (Viktor Verzhbitskiy) has been searching for that converter for years, and there's no way he'll let some kid use it to bypass Moscow traffic when it could help him drill for diamonds, even if that would crack the city's very foundations, muwahahahaha!

Okay, I got a little carried away there, but not much. Black Lightning is such a throwback to old-school superhero stories that one almost expects to see Stan Lee in the credits somewhere (and maybe he should be anyway - I think Maxim not being Viktor's son is all that separate's this movie's basic story from Spider-Man). All of the classic elements are there - a defining tragedy, secret identity issues, a grandiose villain who eventually must match the hero's gear, and a final confrontation at a landmark. They're present because they work; as familiar - and at times almost silly - as the elements are, it feels good to watch someone overcome their selfishness to do right, and the characters don't come across as parodies.

Give thanks to the pleasing cast for that. Grigoriy Dobrygin is always hitting the right notes as Dima, a good guy who doesn't make a big production out of it, and not quite able to lose the audience's goodwill when he does succumb to his more selfish impulses. Sergey Garmash is just right as his father, sometimes a little embarrassing in how is sentimental and very uncomfortable with the sort of modern capitalism luring his son. Viktor Verzhbitskiy is of course an exemplar of that as Vikotr, and he's a fine villain, ruthless but never a raving lunatic, although he seems to be gratifyingly satisfied when he finally gets to take direct action rather than just dispatch goons. It's good to see the bad guy having fun. Ekaterina Vilkova is as charming as Nastya as she is pretty (and that's a lot of charm), although she doesn't quite manage to be the first superhero love interest ever to come out of the "duped by secret identity" situation looking good.

The movie as a whole does look good, though. Timur Bekmambetov is on board as a producer, and a big Hollywood studio is also involved, so the visual effects and production values are top-notch; the film could play the US without seeming like a step down from what that audience expects. The airborne action scenes are very well-done, both fast-paced and easy to follow, and I like the way that the filmmakers use the Volga, making it work both as a Soviet piece of junk and retro-cool as needed, including in its flying mode. Having a sleek white Mercedes play opposite it in the final battle is a clever contrast, the home-grown people's car versus the foreign status symbol.

I'm not saying "Black Lightning" could be a big hit outside of Russia, but there's no rational reason why it shouldn't do alright. Directors Dmitriy Kiselev and Aleksandr Voytinskiy have basically made a good-looking Hollywood adventure that just happens to be set in Moscow, and subtitles would be a silly thing to hold against it.

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originally posted: 07/21/10 15:06:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/07/13 Georgina Marin This movie was on Netflix. I really enjoyed BL and it had a classic superhero story line 4 stars
8/11/12 David. Connelly Satisfying on more than one level. 4 stars
2/23/12 Eunice Farmilant I was quite suprised to see the same sort of programming that goes on in American films . 4 stars
1/10/12 oliver that´s crap 1 stars
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  DVD: 22-Feb-2011



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