Black Lightning (2009)

Paul Andolina is back to share another movie with us. He’s always a welcome guest on our site. If you like his stuff, check out his site Wrestling with Film

I’ve written about my love for Russian cinema for the site before but it wasn’t always easy to get access to Russian movies. I’d have to search for them on the internet and hope there was an English DVD release or just lament the fact I’d never see the film. Thankfully Timur Bekmambetov directed Wanted (2008) and it was a big enough hit that him being attached to a project meant there was a good possibility we would see stuff he had a hand in. Such is the case with today’s film Black Lightning (2009). 

Originally Black Lightning was released on December 31, 2009  but we didn’t see it stateside until a year after it’s release in 2011. New Year’s Eve is as big as Christmas here in the United States and films that take place during the New Year are often big deals there. Many classic films center on the holiday. A large part of Black Lightning takes place during the New Year festivities.

Black Lightning also happens to be the first Russian film that could be classified as a superhero film. Comic books were not as big a medium as they were in the States during the Soviet Union’s existence, most comic exposure was through xeroxed copies of single issues, traded to folks who were interested in comic books. I’d like to imagine the writers of the film were fans of Spider-Man as I feel like the film has parallels to the stories told in those comics.

A trio of scientists, Perepelkin, Romantseva, and Elizarov created the nanocatalyst, a fuel converter that multiples energy output a million fold and put it inside a GAZ-21 Volga. The automobile was supposed to fly but its success was hidden by Perepelkin who was jealous of Elizarov and his relationship with Romantseva.

Many years later a shrewd businessman, Kuptsov is determined to drill beneath the city of Moscow for Diamonds. The drill isn’t powerful enough and he needs the nanocatalyst. It was hidden inside a laboratory. The laboratory is accidentally discovered by a group of construction workers who unearth the Volga and extract it to sell and share its profits. Dima is an ordinary college student who longs for a vehicle and on his birthday he is given an old Volga by his father. This Volga isn’t just an ordinary model though it is the exact one that Perepelkin, Romantseva, and Elizarov worked on so many years ago.

At first Dima is ashamed of the old vehicle and even arrives late to a lecture at his university because he ditches the car and attempts to ride the bus to class. He helps an old man onto the train and is forced to drive to college in the Volga anyway. The speaker is none other than Kupstov who asks the class if they would stop to help someone and risk being late to class. Everyone raises their hands to say they would. He then changes it up by saying how many would stop to help if he was offering 1 million rubles to anyone who didn’t. No one would help.

Dima asks for the million now if he doesn’t help someone next time and is given the money. He eventually gives it back and ask Kuptsov how he started from the bottom. He is told he started by delivering flowers. Dima gets a job delivering flowers and stumbles across the fact that Volga flies by coincidence when he slams on the breaks in a very near automobile collision with Kuptsov’s men. Kuptsov had sent men looking for the car after discovering the laboratory knowing that it had the nanocatalyst inside.

Dima tracks down the scientists who created the car and is given a manual on how to utilize its powers.

At first Dima just uses the car to deliver flowers super fast and make a lot of money but that all changes when a tragedy occurs and he loses his father to a mugger. Now realizing he can use his car’s abilities to help people, he is becoming a bit of a local hero, the local news and media begin calling the car Black Lightning

Kupstov gets the the scientists to start working on another nanocatlyst saying the government is restarting the program in an effort to help Black Lightning and need the nanocatalyst to fuel a Mercedes but this is a lie. Kupstov will stop at nothing to have the nanocatalyst so he can retrieve the diamonds beneath Moscow.

Throughout the movie Dima is also trying to woo his classmate, Nastaya, who is being pursued by another of Dima’s classmates, Max. Max is a socialite and is able to pursue Nastaya using his social status and good looks.

This movie is good. It was fun being able to see a Russian take on the coming of age super hero trope that was slowly but surely consuming us all stateside. I really think that had this film come out about 6 years later it would have been given the remake treatment. I was drawn to this movie not only because of Timur Bekmambetov had previously directed Night Watch and Day Watch which were my introductions to Russian film but because I was hungry to track down anything Russian to watch.

I am not the biggest fan of superhero films but I have watched most that have come out through the years. If you are a fan of superhero flicks, I think you will love this movie. It may not bring a lot of new concepts to super hero films and uses many tried and true tropes but it is a fun movie that is stunning to look at.

I’d also like to point out that the directors of this film also worked on Night Watch and Day Watch and used some of the actors from those films in this one. Valeriy Zolutkin plays Perepelkin and Kuptsov is played by Viktor Verzhbitskiy. Valeriy is also joined by his costar from Charodei, Yekatrina Vasilyeva, who plays Romantseva.

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