Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fantasia 2010: Black Lightning (2009) Russia

Fantasia 2010: Black Lightning (2009) Russia

Black Lightning aka Chernaya Molniya (2009) Russia imdb Directed by Dmitriy Kiselev and Aleksandr Voytinskiy Written by Dmitriy Aleynikov and Aleksandr Talal, based on an idea by Aleksandr Voytinskiy and Mikhail Vrubel and Dmitriy Aleynikov, with participation from Rostislav Krivitskiy and Vladimir Neklyudov.

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov (the director of Wanted) who is currently developing a U.S. version, the Russian film Black Lightning is simultaneously the best flying car movie and the best Spider-Man movie ever made. (Replacing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Spider-Man II respectively - Blade Runner is a movie with flying cars not a movie about a flying car.)

To be exact it is a Spider-Man pastiche about a Russian kid named Dima (your Peter Parker substitute). After Dima drops broad hints about needing a car to date the prettiest girl in his school, Nastya (your Gwen Stacy substitute), his parents give him a beat-up antique Volga for his birthday. Dima is disappointed because the Volga is an uncool tank of a car and no competition for his best friend's cooler Mercedes. What Dima discovers is that his car is a lost Soviet experiment and it can fly. (The best friend being your Norman Harry Osborn substitute and Dima's rival for Nastya's attentions.)

In case it is not obvious, Black Lightning handles the soap opera that surrounds Dima's life very well hearkening back to the Stan Lee/John Romita Sr. run on the Amazing Spider-Man.

In typical Spider-Man fashion, Dima uses the flying car to become... the best (and best-paid) flower deliveryman in Russia, using the money to date Nastya. And naturally he learns a lesson about great power and greater responsibility.

It should be said that the film does not use those words. The film is built on a theme of selfishness vs selflessness, framed a bit as a nostalgic longing for socialism compared to the out-of-control kleptocracy version of capitalism that controls Russia today. The film is not completely nostalgic. The Soviet experiment that created the flying car in the first place failed (or rather appeared to fail) because of an act of selfishness.

The MacGuffin that fuels the plot (and makes the Volga fly) is a device called the nano-catalyst, created using a crystal from the Moon, implying that the Soviets either flew to the Moon or stole the a crystal from the Americans. The nano-catalyst converts regular fuel into fuel that is millions of time more efficient, powering the engines of Dima's flying car.

If that sounds like a silly use for such a device, you would share the opinion of the Big Bad of the film, a ruthless industrialist who is a cross between Norman Osborn and a Bond villain. He wants the nano-catalyst to power a drill to break through the bedrock underneath Moscow and access the diamond deposit hidden there. Worries that penetrating Moscow's bedrock foundation night cause earthquakes that would destroy half the city are dismissed as inconsequential compared to the diamonds.

Ironically, Russia kleptocracy works against the industrialist. When his stooges find the lost Soviet lab where the nano-catalyst experiments took place, they steal and sell the Volga (to Dima's father) because it is obviously not the nano-catalyst their boss is looking for. Similarly, Dima's florist boss and the purse-snatcher Dima refuses to stop both act for their own selfish reasons unknowingly frustrating the desires of the industrialist.

What makes Black Lightning great is its careful blend of crowd-pleasing Silver-Age Marvel super-hero soap-opera with astute (and exotic) commentary on contemporary Russian society.

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