From Russia with Flaws
The word masterpiece gets thrown around a lot but 2019’s Chernobyl lives up to that title. Gripping, suspenseful and absolutely dread-inducing, the six-part series accurately and comprehensively broke down this disaster. So how do you top that? The answer is, you don’t.
Fast forward two years and Russian movie Chernobyl 1986 only reinforces how true this statement is. With a laborious pace, a lackluster romance and some so-so action set pieces, 1986 essentially uses the Chernobyl disaster as a backdrop for its romance. The irony here is that it’s one of the worst parts of the movie.
For the first 30 minutes, we meet a firefighter named Alexey and see his whirlwind romance with Olga. I say romance, the movie uncomfortably shows serious toxicity in their relationship. Alexey is known to bail when things get tough, he shows up drunk and even forces himself on her at one point. And this is the protagonist of our story. But don’t worry, he soon turns into an aspiring action hero who can do it all.
We then skip forward two months as Olga takes a backseat and Alexey is given the lion’s share of the screen-time. He teams up with his fellow firefighters as disaster strikes at Chernobyl. The Reactor blows and Alexey joins his comrades on the frontlines.
Alexey manages to survive with minor radiation burns, eventually going on to volunteer as one of the brave liquidators tasked with trying to stop the disaster from spiraling out of control.
Unfortunately, the film’s pace is pretty poor, with many scenes dragging on for far too long. Unfortunately, this means there’s little in the way of impending dread or suspense for large swathes of the movie. Too often Chernobyl 1986 sacrifice its plot for poor character writing, much to the detriment of this film. Aside from Alexey and Olga, all the other supporting characters are given very little to work with.
The trouble is, this romance isn’t exactly endearing or well written. The two actors have barely any chemistry together and their toxic relationship mostly revolves around Alexey trying to make up for past mistakes, earning Olga’s forgiveness and then abandoning her again. This cycle continues for almost the entirety of the movie.
The other point of contention comes from the disaster itself. The 2019 series did a fantastic job breaking downs the moments after the disaster, with the inquires following this just as powerful as the moments preceding them as the Russian authorities faced the music for their actions.
Here though, the movie pussyfoots around the blame game. The only significant moment comes from one scene late on where Alexey asks outright who’s to blame for the diester. Instead of an actual answer though, his comrade brushes it aside and the pair continue with their task. That’s not exactly a great look, especially with so many of the officials here painted in a positive light.
Aesthetically, the movie looks good and the set pieces – particularly when the firefighters are at the nuclear plant – are really well shot. Props to the cinematography in this as it’s easily the best part of the movie. This helps to elevate these early moments of the disaster, which are easily some of the best across the entire run-time.
Ironically, the best part of this movie comes from showing the archival footage at the end during the film’s epilogue, showing the brave men and women from that time.
Chernobyl 1986 is a nuclear disaster of a movie that’s certainly not worth the 2 hour time investment. The romance is tepid at best while the laborious pace makes this disaster feel more like a snooze fest rather than a genuine dread-inducing moment in history.
It’s hard not to compare this to HBO’s Chernobyl, but if anything this film only reinforces how far ahead the small screen is right now when it comes to storytelling. Do yourself a favour and watch HBO’s masterpiece instead.
Read More: Chernobyl 1986 Ending Explained