REVIEW: DVD Release: Black Lightning

Film: Black Lightning
Release date: 6th September 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 101 mins
Director: Dmitriy Kiselev & Aleksandr Voytinskiy
Starring: Grigoriy Dobrygin, Ekaterina Vilkova, Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Valeriy Zolotukhin, Ekaterina Vasileva
Genre: Action/Family/Sci-Fi
Studio: Universal
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: Russia

Black Lightning is your 'typical' story of an ordinary boy, who is given an incredible flying car for his birthday. He then uses the car to become rich in order to win the heart of a girl, but becomes embroiled in a fiendish plot which could end up destroying Moscow!

Dima (Dobrygin) is the kind of boy no-one at school remembers - poor and clever - whilst his best friend is the richest and most popular boy in school.

Dima comes from a normal, down to earth family. His father is a man who believes that nothing in life matters as much as being a good person and doing the right thing, values he has tried to instil in his son. Dima is jealous of his rich friend Max who has the best clothes, the best gadgets, the best car, and, most importantly, the beautiful new girl from their Economics class.

Everything changes for Dima when he is given an old Volka car for his birthday. Ashamed at first, he may have been dreaming of a Mercedes-Benz, but never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined taking possession of the incredible car which will change his life completely.

Will Dima use his new flying car to gain wealth and success, and win the heart of the beautiful Nastya? Or will he use the car for the greater good and prevent the evil Kuptsov’s (Verzhbitskiy) plans which could see Moscow literally sinking into the Earth?

The first thing to notice about Black Lightning is that the look and tone of the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Day Watch and Night Watch. Black Lightning co-director Dmitriy Kiselev was an editor and second unit director on the aforementioned films, as well helping out with Bekmambetov’s Wanted, and the trademark car chases, slow-motion sequences, and non-Hollywood special effects are all well to the fore here. And it is a very good thing Black Lightning is so well made, because there are many familiar story elements and plot devices - Black Lightning not only wears its heart on its sleeve, it wears its derivatives on its forehead. However, Black Lightning is an enjoyable romp, so it’s not surprising a Hollywood re-make has already been mooted (with Bekmambetov rumoured to helm).

Grigoriy Dobrygin gives Dima the necessary pathos in the now familiar Peter Parker-esque role, although the paucity of his family life is illustrated without the need for clunky dialogue, which is way more successful than the Spiderman films. If there are any complaints, it is that the short run time doesn’t allow Dima an entirely believable character arc. It’s a bit rushed, but for a film aimed at the family, this is a minor quibble.

A larger quibble is that Dima’s character IS Peter Parker without the spider bite! Even his character transition is sparked by an event taken directly from the Spiderman back story, which is a shame, because Grigoriy Dobrygin’s performance may not be recognised due to the startling lack of imagination in Dima’s characterisation.

Also, as in Spiderman, Black Lightning is really a story about a girl, in this case the beautiful Ekaterina Vilkova. She plays Nastya; love interest, object of desire, and reason for Dima’s transition from nice guy nobody to selfish high-flyer. The love triangle between Nastya, Dima and Max is surprisingly well played, and it’s impossible not to really root for our heroes.

Where Black Lightning differs from other superhero films is that the real star of the show is the car. Dima’s ancient black Volka is a thing of real beauty, and the rather silly premise which enables the car to fly is good fun. Watching the car zooming above the streets of Moscow via the impressive effects is exhilarating, and there is a decent success rate for the visual gags.

Another of the features shared with Day Watch is the supporting cast, and amongst the familiar faces is the excellent Viktor Verzhbitskiy playing bad guy Kupstov. During the first third of the film, Kupstov’s relationship with Dima is especially rewarding as Dima’s moral compass is shifted by the magnetic presence of his charismatic mentor. Unfortunately, much of the good work is undone as the tension is lost when the film movie towards its cartoony climax. Saying that, we are treated to the sight of three elderly scientists being tied to a giant drill which is being used to mine underneath the streets of Moscow, as well as a flying Mercedes which bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain flying Delorean, so it’s not all bad!

Black Lightning is fun for kids of all ages, although the very young may not be able to keep up. If young children don’t like the subtitles, the dubbing is pretty good, with annoying voices kept to a minimum. The performances are decent, the story is well paced and the action is interspersed at regular intervals throughout. Even if you don’t become totally involved with the film, you can enjoy yourself spotting which script ideas have been taken from other films. SM

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