Apparently no one in Moscow looks up either. Or at least they don’t for a while. That is, until a series of heroic deeds around the city (rescuing children from burning buildings, depositing bank robbers in front of police stations, etc.) are performed by someone in a flying 1951 black Volga. Certainly it is the unlikeliest of cars for such bravery (the Volga being the “people’s car” of the Soviet era), but the hero and driver is Moscow’s version of Peter Parker, a young man from a working family just trying to earn some cash and win the heart of a beautiful girl, while maybe stopping some bad guys along the way. Black Lightning is a refreshing and fantastically executed action-adventure film.
Producer Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch) knows what makes superhero movies fun. A young man struggling with his identity, a decent badass enemy out to destroy for his own gain, a beautiful young girl and some kind of really cool toy. Dima is a university student with little pocket money, in love with Nastya who has been scooped up by his wealthy friend Maxim. His well-meaning parents buy him an old Volga, which out of necessity rather than love, he reluctantly drives. Meanwhile, the rich Kuptsov has a dastardly plan to drill for diamonds underneath the city, and he needs a powerful engine (even though the drilling will cause a massive earthquake.) While being chased by some of Kuptsov’s henchmen, Dimi discovers the car’s flying secret. At first, he uses it to avoid traffic jams, and earn more money. Then, when his father has an accident, he becomes a secret avenger.
There is not necessarily anything very new in this film; anyone who watches superhero films will be able to count out the beats of the plot. However, this does not make it boring. On the contrary, its particular Russian take on the genre keeps it exciting. The extremes of emotion and the incessant over-dramatization have been replaced with a decent sense of humour about traffic, weather, and the differences between the old Soviet Union and the new Russia. Dimy first uses the flying car to deliver flowers faster and make more money. The scientists who originally built the car under Soviet sponsorship, to help create cheap and easy energy, are brought back to put it to use for capitalism. The bad guy is not necessarily a pure Lex Luthor evil genius, but one who worked his way up from nothing and has no desire to return to nothing.
While they are certainly some very cool special effects in the film, directors Dmitriy Kiselev and AleksandrVoytinskiy focus on the story and Dimy’s struggle between his desires and the greater good. Though Batman-like in that he has no special physical skills, he has a cool gadget. But unlike Batman, he is not trying to change the world; rather, relieve his own conscious and honour his father. He is far closer to Spider-Man, and while Dima does carry (or drive) a burden, he is not so painfully wrought.
Black Lightning is high-concept, summer popcorn movie fare, but unlike most Hollywood productions, it rises above the sum of its parts. You know where the ride is taking you, but the slight difference in view makes it worthwhile.