Diabolik (2021)

This was a movie that I wasn’t certain I was ready to watch.

I’ve been outspoken about my adoration for Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik and I knew there was no way that any movie could live up to the artistry of that film.

But what if a film did something so few comic book movies do? What if it actually stayed true to the source material?

The Manetti Bros. started their careers making music videos before directing Zora the Vampire, a movie that wasn’t a great experience for them or anyone that’s seen the film. They rebounded with a movie set on an elevator, Floor 17, and L’ispettore Coliandro, a TV series based on the stories by Carlo Lucarelli (Almost Blue) that references crime and action movies of the 70s and 80s. That show lasted seven seasons and led to further success such as The Arrival of WangPaura 3D, the poliziotteschi comedy tribute Song’e Napule, the musical comedy Ammore e malavita and now, Diabolik.

Diabolik was created in 1962 by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani. Over 800 volumes, he and his partner Eva Kant have evolved from amoral supervillains out to swindle the town of Clerville to growing a code of honor and stealing from other criminals. He was raised on a secret island hideout of King, a crime boss, learning everything he needed to become the world’s greatest villain before killing his would-be father figure before he would be betrayed, taking his name from the black panther that that man had once killed. He doesn’t know his name or where he really comes from. He is only Diabolik. Only one man has a chance to stop him, the valiant, intelligent and incorruptible Inspector Ginko.

This film takes us back to a time when Diabolik (Luca Marinelli, They Call Me Jeeg) and Eva (Miss Italia 2008 Miriam Leone) knew each other, as he plans on stealing a ring from her, thinking she’s just another vapid heiress. After all, isn’t she dating deputy minister of justice Giorgio Caron (Alessandro Roja)? Using his ability to make life-like masks, Diabolik visits her hotel as his archenemy Ginko (Valerio Mastandrea). However, instead of taking from Eva, he becomes fascinated by her.

It turns out that Giorgio is an even worse criminal than Diabolik and he’s been blackmailing Eva, forcing her to date him. She soon falls for the master thief just as his girlfriend Elisabeth (Serena Rossi) discovers his secret hideout and sets him up for arrest by Ginko. A trial follows and Diabolik is sentenced to the guillotine (the judge is Mario Gomboli, author and chief editor of the Diabolik comic. He was one of the writers of the film, along with the Manettis and Michelangelo La Neve, who wrote the Dylan Dog comic, which Cemetery Man comes from).

That’s when Eva reveals that she’s just as resourceful as the black masked master criminal and the two put together a plan that takes out nearly all of their enemies while, at least, showing that even Diabolik has a code that he lives by.

Staying true to the third volume of the comic book, L’arresto di Diabolik (The Arrest of Diabolik), there’s a lot to like about this movie. The exterior scenes create a Clerville that is set in an unknown time, at once having modern technology and others showing a Eurospy sensibility with hidden rooms within brick walls and trees opening to create secret passages.

What doesn’t is the length of the film, taking over two hours to tell its story. Perhaps the explanations of the escapes could have been condensed or tweaked. There are times when you want this to become an action movie and it struggles in those moments.

That said, I came away liking the film, particularly Leone, who plays an Eva Kant who is just as capable as her lover. I do love the way the Manettis approached this film, however.

In an interview with Opentapes, Mario Gomboli said, “I understood that the Manettis could be the right choice when they told me: we don’t want to make a film about Diabolik, but the film about Diabolik. Diabolik is a character outside the box.” He also discussed how Eva had to be her own person, saying “I was inspired by the Giussani sisters: I dedicated all my work to them. They are the ones who created this woman who is a planet, she is not a satellite of a man, she is not at the service of any man.”

Supposedly there are two sequels already in post-production, so I’m excited to see what happens next. In fact, that was my exact thought as I watched this: I want to watch the same actors and creators make another one. That’s my scale for whether or not a movie works.

Hey — it was also nice to briefly see Demons actor Urbano Barberini in this! And I would have loved this even more if we’d had just a hint of “Deep Deep Down” play on the soundtrack.

One more piece of Diabolik trivia: Claudia Gerini, who plays Mrs. Morel in the film, has already appeared in the Diabolik universe. She was Eva Kant in the video for “Amore Impossibile” by Tiromancino, which was directed by Lamberto Bava. John Phillip Law in the video too!

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