i first found out about black lightning (chernaya molniya) in a grocery store, which is not my preferred place to discover movies. from the dvd cover, it looks like they think its major selling point is that it’s presented by the director of wanted. but i wouldn’t hold it against the movie, since he also directed night watch and day watch. i also wouldn’t hold it against the movie that the guy on the cover looks like eminem or ryan phillippe.
what i did hold against the movie is the (rather inaccurate) plot summary on the back cover. while it is about a young guy getting an old car that can fly, they try to make it sound like it’s batman or other dark picture book superhuman characters. but i guess it’s not really surprising from people who think that wanted is the only timur bekmambetov movie worth mentioning. anyway, i was pretty sure that i was sick of superhero/superhero origin/regular-folks-turn-superhero movies in general. but i guess i am just sick of the aren’t-i-clever/run of the mill/mediocre yet overhyped/overrated ones.
black lightning (not based on the picture books black lightning by dc comics) tells the story of lower middle class college student dima, played by grigorly dobrygin, whose moralistic father buys him a used car for his birthday. he also has a rich friend played by ivan zhidkov. of course, a superhero type fantasy can’t be made in any country without a love interest, here it’s nastya played by ekaterina vilkova. oh yeah, dima finds out that his car can fly.
as the brief plot summary shows, it owes quite a bit to the spider-man stories, from the rich friend to the love triangle. it seems like that’s reason enough for a lot of people to dismiss or discredit the movie. i on the other hand, thought it was done better here than any of the spider-man movies. dobrygin is better at emoting than his hollywood counterparts, or maybe the screenplay allows him to be an actual believable character rather than the usual emo adult-as-teenager act we usually get in movies like this.
this may sound a bit snobby but i like the fact that the hero of the movie is a college student instead of a teenage high school loveable loser type, and he acts accordingly. i don’t know what it is but there seems to be a kind of anti-higher education thing in hollywood and this country at large. the ones we see on screen are either acting like they are still in high school in comedies or villains (good will hunting) in non-van wilder/american pie movies.
but outside of the educational level, dima is also quite a stand up guy, someone with a quiet dignity that we don’t often see in teenage picture book movies. he’s a fully realized character who knows what he’s doing and what needs to be done instead of the usual bland cardboard emo kids we are given (or pandered to). there’s a plot thread where he stops to help a homeless person, which causes him to be late for a lecture at school given by the rich bond-ish villain kuptsov played by viktor verzhbitskiy, who looks like a cross between tobin “jigsaw” bell and michael ironside. there’s a debate in class about his lateness and whether it was worth it to help someone without seemingly any benefit to our hero. the movie never went with the simplistic route of “money is not the most important thing in life,” but instead, it shows us that our hero wants those materialistic things too, but he’s not willing to break his moral codes to achieve those things. there is always a strong sense of doing the right thing.
another unusual sight in black lightning is that we actually see some pretty effective family scenes. no dysfunctional families or quirky families or single parent families but simply a working class family. some may complain about the lack of action sequences and the slowness in the first hour but they work out effectively at the end. it’s not very often that you get to feel the emotions in a picture book movie. i don’t know if it’s a cultural or social issue but i just can’t quite imagine the scene where being made fun of his old crappy car but decided to drive the car to school early on in the movie happening in a hollywood movie. without giving much away, the line “it’s free to call an ambulance” resonates way deeper than most teenage picture book based/zero to hero movies i’ve seen.
our college age hero also get a job delivering flowers, which is more believable to me than a high school student getting hired as a photographer for the city’s only newspaper. it may have been meant as a satire but the flower company owner’s line equating it as “joining hearts together, like a surgeon” probably won’t show up in a hollywood superhero movie anytime soon. and i haven’t even mentioned the trio of scientists in the prologue.
now that i think about it, you know what helps? unlike the picture book based movies, he never wears a costume in the movie. he also got the name black lightning from the media, he didn’t just up and decides that that’s what he would call himself, or his alter ego. it’s a good thing that the movie is able to escape the trappings of being based on a source material, and takes a more realistic approach. i appreciate the fact that these characters are not all related to each other or have a personal score to settle. it creates a real world feeling.
there is no doubt that black lightning will remind you of plenty of other movies, from the spider-man movies, batman, iron man, kick-ass, james bond, and the matrix-es…etc. some have also complained that the action sequences and special effects defy all laws of physics. while that may be true, it’s just about in line with other similar movies, and i don’t think it ruins the movie.
(somehow foreign language movies seem to be held against a higher standard than our own crap. are people really that pissed that they have to “read” during a movie? “i’m sorry, i don’t like it as much as the transformers, g.i. joe, fantastic fours products because even though they have more flaws, at least they didn’t make me read when i was experiencing those dumb fun summer blockbuster action experiences.”)
by the time these (required) scenes show up, i care and feel so much about the characters that they are pretty easy to forgive, or i should say more willing to suspend my disbelief. black lightning takes elements from all those other movies and somehow elevates them because it takes the time to draw you in.
p.s. i don’t know if it was set up to be a franchise but black lightning was a tentpole movie released in russian area during christmas of 2009. it went direct to dvd in the u.s. and instead of having a part ii, an american reamake is on the way supposed to be directed by timur bekmambetov. it will probably amp up the action and comedy with the social issues thrown out, and ending up as just another high school fanboy handjob masturbation wish fullfillment fantasy like kick-ass or wanted.
black lightning is currently not available on netflix instant
4/5 non-cera-esque emo douches