Day Watch (15)
Dir: TIMUR BEKMAMBETOV, 2006, Russia, 140mins, Russian with subtitles
Cast: KONSTANTIN KHABENSKY, MARIA POROSHINA, Victor Verzhbitskiy, DIMA MARTYNOV
This second instalment continues the fantasy epic about a secret war between ancient, magical beings in contemporary Moscow. The Protectors of Light and Lords of Darkness keep an uneasy truce, caught in the middle is our hero, Anton Gorodetsky (Khabensky). His son, Egor (Martynov), has become the Dark Onesí champion while Svetlana (Poroshina), Antonís would-be girlfriend, is the great hope of the Light. Suspicion falls on Anton after several Dark Ones are murdered. On the run from Day Watch, Anton seeks out a magical artefact that can save the day, the Chalk of Fate. But the chalk was lost centuries ago, and arch-villain Zavulon (Verzhbitskiy) stands poised to trigger an apocalyptic war.
Yup, thatís right. Humanityís salvation rests upon a missing piece of chalk. Where itís eventually found provides a priceless gag, one of many that mark this inventive, fantasy/action blockbuster as something quite special. Less style heavy and more plot-centred than its predecessor, Day Watch still features enough exciting battles, dazzling special effects, surreal humour and bizarre, often charming, non-sequitors to leave viewers slack-jawed in awe. Some have criticised the filmís flashy, visual style, but Bekmambetov is too idiosyncratic to be dismissed as a Michael Bay/Steven Sommers copyist. Whimsical set pieces like a car racing up a building, affable vampires and warlocks, a male/female body swap, photos that pull funny faces and the aforementioned chalk, are closer to an action variant on Amelie (2001) than soulless Bruckheimer fare. Truth be told, itís as rooted in Russian reality as Tarkovskyís philosophical fantasies were (especially Stalker (1979)), with solid themes about fathers and sons, and ordinary folk anxious to put conflict aside, settle down and raise a family. The duality of modern Russia is neatly embodied in the Light (humble, workaday proletariats) and the Dark (flashy, self-indulgent capitalists).
It is also a rare fantasy blockbuster that doesnít opt for a clear-cut, good versus evil conflict. Zavulon is a master-schemer but shows genuine concern for his minions, and Egor in particular. When an elderly vampire lashes out, Zavulon doesnít do the Bad Guy thing and beat him to a pulp, but accepts his apology. Anton is a haunted hero, ridden with guilt, conveyed in Khabenskyís delightfully world-weary performance. Paced like a runaway freight train, the downside of this moral ambiguity is itís sometimes hard to figure out who is doing what to whom, and why. Similarly, while Svetlana is established as an all-powerful, Great Light Other, the climax doesnít give her much to do. However, the coda is poetic and touching, a suitably harmonious balance between light and dark. Itís also unexpectedly final, which raises questions as to where the story can go with the forthcoming third instalment. Day Watch is inventive, engaging and often astounding, an alternative summer blockbuster, worth seeking out by adventurous moviegoers (One warning: see NIGHT WATCH (2004) first, or youíll feel hopelessly lost). Roll on, Dusk Watch!