Opening Friday, June 1
Konstantin Khabensky as Anton
Mariya Poroshina as Svetlana
Vladimir Menshov as Geser
Galina Tyunina as Olga
Viktor Verzhbitsky as Zavulon
Zhanna Friske as Alisa
Dima Martynov as Yegor
Valeri Zolotukhin as Kostya’s Father
Aleksei Chadov as Kostya
Nurzhuman Ikhtymbayev as Zoar
Aleksei Maklakov as Semyon
Aleksandr Samojlenko as The Bear (Medved’)
Yuri Kutsenko as Ignat
Irina Yakovleva as Galina Rogova
Yegor Dronov as Tolik
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
A marked improvement over the original, “Day Watch” further proves Timur Bekmambetov’s abilities as a visionary filmmaker, though he sometimes loses sight of storytelling in favor of impressive action sequences and amusing sidetracks.
Night Watch agent Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) continues his struggle against Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky), leader of the Dark Others, who has taken Anton’s son Yegor under his wing in order to further his advantage in the constant struggle between the two factions. Desperate to get his son back, Anton searches for the legendary Chalk of Fate, a mystical item that can change the past.
One of the stranger box office sensations of 2004 was Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch,” a dark action thriller based on a popular trilogy of fantasy novels. Made for a mere $4 million, it outgrossed “The Return of the King” and “Spider-Man 2” in his native Russia, but it never really caught on in the United States, partially due to the language barrier but also because it took what should have been a simple premise of good vs. evil locked in eternal conflict and made it more confusing with a lot of wild visual concepts. (My original Night Watch review.)
If you haven’t seen “Night Watch,” the English recap that opens its sequel might not be enough to get you up to speed before a new element is added with a flashback to the distant past in which a great warrior seeks out an item called the Chalk of Fate, something that will play a large part in changing the course of the battle between the factions. In present day Moscow, our unlikely chain-smoking hero Anton is training the blonde beauty Svetlana as the newest member of the Night Watch, the force that polices the activities of the vampiric Dark Others, led by Zavulon. They’re sent after one such being, who turns out to be Anton’s estranged son Yegor, and as Anton tries to win back his son by finding and using the Chalk of Fate, Zavulon hopes to use the boy to end the truce with the Light Others and reignite the war between the factions.
Having already established what should have been a simple premise in the first movie, Bekmambetov takes a few more liberties and has a bit more fun in the sequel, lightening up the serious nature of the ancient conflict with humorous character bits and jawdropping action scenes that have to be seen to be believed. Having clearly been influenced by the big budget movies of Michael Bay and the Wachowski Brothers, Bekmambetov knows that sometimes you need to take things over-the top to capture the interest of ADD males tempered by years of video games, and he does this via impressive set pieces include one where Zavulon’s betrothed Alicia drives her car along the outer walls of Moscow’s prestigious Kosmos Hotel and a battle with Zavulon that has him wielding a landscape-destroying energy whip. There’s a point where it feels like Bekmambetov is going a bit overboard merely to show off and sometimes things get rather silly when his whimsical sense of humor rears its head at the oddest of moments. Clearly, Bekmambetov is a visionary on a par with someone like Guillermo del Toro as he once again uses the subtitles in an original way to incorporate them into the film’s sense of visual style.
Even though they’re rarely on screen together, much of the sequel deals with the relationship between Anton and his son after the first movie’s twist ending, but there’s a marked improvement in the writing and the acting as the cast seems to have grown into their characters. Fans of the first movie should be delighted that all of the major characters returned, but also a number of secondary characters like Anton’s butcher neighbor and his vampire son take a more active role in the story. The most impressive performance comes from Galina Tyunina as Olga when her body is possessed by Anton’s spirit after a strategic body switch that seems to have been done purely to introduce a bit of girl-on-girl shower action to the mix. Somehow, she’s able to combine her femininity with the macho swagger that Konstantin Khabensky brings to his character for an entertaining bit that takes things a bit off track from the story.
In general, the sequel tends to jump around a lot, introducing a few too many new ideas and subplots to the story. Just as you’ve figured out the difference between the Light and Dark Others, they start talking about Great Others, who have even more power than the ancient Others. It seems a bit too coincidental that both Anton’s son and his new trainee/girlfriend are the only two members of this select group, something done to add more conflict but not really resolved well. Considering how long the movie is already (over two hours after sizeable edits), the romantic subplot between Anton and Svetlana could have been omitted without taking much away from the overall story.
The tense situation between Anton and Zavulon culminates in a birthday party for Anton’s son at the Dark Other’s Kosmos headquarters, bringing all of the principles together and building to a glorious money shot where Bekmambetov literally razes Moscow in a scene that will be studied by admirers of CGI FX for years.
Presumably, “Day Watch” is still intended to be the second chapter of a trilogy, although it ends in a way that might make another sequel superfluous. It’s a shame, because the sequel delivers on the unfilled promise that Bekmambetov showed in “Night Watch” and a third movie might be even better. Then again, considering this summer’s disappointing threequels, it may be a good thing for Bekmambetov to get out on a high point.
The Bottom Line:
Although it’s a bit long with a few too many confusing plotlines, a solid sense of humor and fun makes this visually stimulating sequel more entertaining than its predecessor. If you haven’t seen the original movie, you might have trouble getting up to speed, but it’s hard not to be impressed by Bekmambetov’s unique vision and his ability to show you things you’re not likely to have seen before.