The Dark Plague Doctor Knight
In its simplest form, Major Grom: Plague Doctor is a superhero thriller. Before you all throw your hands up in exasperation at “yet another superhero flick”, Major Grom does have one distinct difference – its main protagonist isn’t actually a superhero. Instead, the movie takes the hallmarks of films like Batman and spins it into something that feels both wholly original and very familiar.
With a solid comedic streak, a couple of familiar plot beats and a handful of likable characters, this Russian thriller is one of the bigger surprises this year. It’s not without its problems of course, but it’s a solid flick for what it is.
Adapted by the comics produced by BUBBLE studio, Major Grom: Plague Doctor is a two hour long revenge mission. There’s some nice little twists in here, believable motivations for both sides and some absolutely gorgeous camera work that helps to keep this one engaging. The result is a movie that sets the foundations for a potential series to follow while tonally remaining on-point throughout the picture.
There are a lot of similarities to Batman too, and the movie seems to be self-aware of this. At one point, Plague Doctor even straight up references the caped crusader.
Admittedly, Plague Doctor is relatively cliched and the story is pretty simple in truth. Clocking in at over 120 minutes, the movie starts with a breathtaking chase through the streets of St Petersburg, Russia. It’s a slick, well-rehearsed segment that immediately introduces us to our main protagonist, police major Igor Grom.
Although heavy-handed in his methods and known to cause considerable damage across the city, Grom is an integral part of the police force. However, all of that changes when a masked man wearing a plague doctor’s outfit shows up. Imaginatively referring to himself as the Plague Doctor, he decides to hit back at the crooked judicial system.
Instead of going after lowlifes and thieves however, the Plague Doctor turns his attention to those in the higher echelons of society. The untouchables who escape punishment in court. Those with enough power to buy themselves out of trouble.
With the police powerless and the everyday joes starting to rebel against the established order, it falls to Igor and his plucky sidekick and newcomer to the police force Dima Dubin to fight back.
While they do, it soon becomes clear that the bigwigs behind social network Zmeste may be closely aligned with the plague doctor. But who is the plague doctor? And will our plucky misfits save the day?
While some could argue the story is a little overlong and could be tightened up a bit, the extra run-time helps to flesh out both the protagonists and antagonists. Despite how twisted their motivations are, the Plague Doctor does make a lot of sense. There are challenging ideas here about the court system and as we know, the best villains are those who have the most believable motivations.
Circling back to superhero films in general, there’s a reason why Thanos is remembered. He wanted to kill 50% of the population to save the universe from overpopulation. Sure it’s a dastardly thing to suggest but understandable from his point of view.
Likewise, Doctor Doom’s whole drive in Fantastic Four is that he’s seen every future of the Earth and the only one it prospers is with him in charge. When you compare those to the endless megalomaniacs who want to destroy the world “just because” then it’s nice to see Major Grom: Plague Doctor break the trend and give its antagonist some solid characterization to work with.
There are a number of similarities to different comic book movies here though and while watching you’ll undoubtedly get a sense of deja vu as all these different references pop up.
Along with solid characterization, the movie also features some absolutely gorgeous camera work. There are some lovely rotating shots, slick montages and a slew of well-rehearsed action sequences that really lean into this feeling like a big budget picture. Given the budget of £6.2 million this had, the movie certainly pulls out all the stops.
Although gritty for the most part, Major Grom: Plague Doctor also dabbles in comedy too. Of course, humour is subjective so this may not be your cup of tea. There’s an early gag involving the title credits which got a kick out of this reviewer, along with a slew of dry and gag-filled moments late on.
It’s not perfect, and not all the jokes land, but the decision to lighten up some of the picture is definitely a welcome one.
In an endless sea of superhero movies with cheesy, megalomaniac villains, Major Grom: Plague Doctor tries to be a little different. It’s not a conventional superhero movie per-se, leaning into the grittiness of something like Kick Ass instead. Coupled with the film’s plot, which feels more akin to Batman in its delivery and grittiness, this Russian picture manages to carve itself a unique slice of the superhero pie.
If you can go in with an open mind and take to some of the slower moments, this Russian picture may just surprise you with its addictive charm and action.