There’s a telling moment that happens in Day Watch‘s third act, when our hero Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) dives through the poster to Fyodor Bondarchuk’s 9th Company into the Moscow subway.
More than just a, like, totally awesome special effect, it’s an allusion from the filmmakers to break the box office records that Bondarchuk’s war movie set in Russia.
Which is unfortunate, because it helps to point out that Day Watch – despite its Russian outsider status in the American dominated genre of fantasy blockbusters – is little more than a product on an assembly line, just another episode in a franchise mass-marketed for mass-consumption.
Following on a year from the events of Night Watch: 1. Anton remains separated from his son Yegor, who has now become a Dark Other working for Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky), and is handled with the training of Svetlana (Tippi Hedren-like Mariya Poroshina), a Great Other just like his son; 2. Anton finds out about the Chalk of Fate, a magical piece of chalk (seriously) that can rewrite the past; 3. The uneasy truce that lies between the Night Watch (good) and the Day Watch (bad) is further challenged when Anton is accused of a series of murders. Over two hours, very little of this will make sense.
Night Watch was something of a cult hit outside of its home country, grossing $32 million in the US alone, and I expect Day Watch to make similar business if marketed as neatly as its predecessor (Tarantino endorsement and all).
Upon seeing Night Watch in 2005, I stumbled out of the audience with an almost-boyish glee: that truck totally flipped over! That’s a cool owl! That dude pulled a sword out of his spine!Visually impressive as Timur Bekmambetov’s film was, I was actually hard-pressed to remember the actual plot or any of the characters I had spent a good two hours in the company of.
While the plot problems are still present – this is how everyone must have felt during the Pirates movies, I felt – Day Watch happily benefits from a lighter tone than its predecessor. There are moments of wit and humour that take away from the over-seriousness of the main plot, particularly in a body-swapping plotline that benefits from Khabensky’s winning deadpan delivery.
Bekmambetov’s still able to deliver visual treats by the dozen, although the shock of seeing something completely new has obviously faded.
So, there’s the good things. But oh my, there are plenty of bad to go around. First off, the music serves as an example that heavy metal should not be used as the score to an action movie. Ever. From someone that loves metal with all his heart, please: no more. You thought Daredevil was bad?
Secondly, the aforementioned plot. No matter what way you cut it, it’s very hard to follow, with Bekmambetov finding himself throwing in excessively stupid (not “ridiculous”, natch) to hide the gaps in his screenplay. After the Yegor-turns-evil cliffhanger of Night Watch, one expects everything to get amped up a bit, for some answers, but we are only given more dangling plot strands than ever and left to work through the collateral damage ourselves.
And finally, this shit is just getting tired. Day Watch, after an admittedly fun start, stumbles and limps its way towards the finishing line, trying to keep your attention by throwing EVERYTHING at you on screen – cars, carnage, cleavage – in the hope that it’ll stick.
The second act in a trilogy is normally supposed to be when everything heats up for the big finale but the ending seems designed to leave you befuddled. Bekmambetov seems to have crashed head-first into a narrative brick wall by the end of his 132-minute juggernaut.
But, to be honest, it could matter less what happens in the film. By adapting the source novels of Sergei Lukyanenko, Bekmambetov has given a true shot in the arm to the Russian film-making industry. Before his Night Watch, would anyone have thought that the home of Eisenstein and Tarkovsky could offer a real blockbuster franchise to the world? Sadly, that’s what’s become of Night Watch – it’s become just another viable fantasy franchise in a post-LOTR world. It won’t change your life, nor will it enlighten you (unless you’re fifteen, of course), but it will take incomprehensibility to the bank, thank you very much.