Downtrodden but decent Russian teenager Dima (Grigoriy Dobrygin) wants to be a successful entrepreneur someday but, right now, dreams of owning a car so his beautiful new classmate Nastya (Ekaterina Vilkova) will want to date him instead of his wealthy, Mercedes Benz-owning friend, Maks (Ivan Zhidkov). On his birthday, Dima’s parents finally buy him a second-hand car that turns out to be a rickety old relic from the 1950s. Despite his disappointment, Dima drives off only to discover the car is powered by a super-powered nanocatalyst developed by Soviet-era scientists that enables it to fly! When his father is killed by a mugger, Dima uses his flying car to fight crime across Moscow and becomes a city-wide sensation, nicknamed “Black Lightning.” Little does Dima know that ruthless billionaire industrialist Viktor Kuptsov (Viktor Verzhbitsky) is after the nanocatalyst as part of his plan to drill beneath Moscow to reach a huge diamond vein.
Chernaya Molniya (known in English as Black Lightning) is essentially Spider-Man only with a teenager piloting a flying car rather than bitten by a radioactive spider. Not only does it lift elements from the Marvel comic books (Dima is mocked by his high school peers, hides a double life from his girlfriend and feels guilt-ridden that his momentary selfishness led to the death of his father) but also restages several scenes from Sam Raimi’s blockbusting film adaptation. Despite being heavily derivative the film remains distinctively Russian in spirit, suggesting producer Timur Bekmambetov - of Night Watch (2004) fame - and co-directors Dmitry Kiselev and Aleksandr Voytinskiy set out to subvert the usual practice of superhero films reflecting staunchly American values.
Dima’s flying car is more or less a romanticised symbol of old-fashioned Soviet era values: sturdy, dependable and defiantly non-ostentatious, bequeathed by a father who despises his son’s capitalist streak and seemingly wants to re-ignite the old utopian Marxist spirit. By contrast, his venal, nouveau-riche friend Maks and more crucially, the villainous Viktor Kuptsov embody the flashy, self-centred, capitalist minded leeches of the post-Putin age. To underline the point, the evildoer’s plan involves literally tearing Moscow apart to satisfy his own greed. A key scene has Dima listening to a folk song recorded by the Soviet scientists while watching club kids dance to pounding techno, thus contrasting young hedonists with the idealism of yesteryear. While the message is somewhat heavyhanded, it is worth remembering Raimi’s Spider-Man concludes with the superhero web-swinging past the American flag.
Despite some amusing scenes as Dima struggles to master his flying car (a bird smashes against his windscreen, drunken tramps throw their bottles away at the sight of him), Kiselev and Voytinskiy display a poor grasp of pace. Frequent time-outs indulge the more earthbound aspects of the story, including not just the hero’s romance but a love triangle between the three elderly scientists who built the car (!), whilst the filmmakers inexplicably rush through the lively superhero set-pieces as if simply ticking the boxes, bereft of any emotional payoff. Grigory Dobrygin livens up during the film’s sporadic instances of light comedy but remains for the most part a dour hero, while co-star Ekaterina Vilkova essays a flighty heroine. The film has its moments but never quite captures the imagination. Strangely, at no point does a police helicopter or military jet set out to investigate events, even when missiles go streaking across Moscow on New Year’s Day.