For fifteen minutes, director Timur Bekmambetov maintains the illusion that he’s learnt his lesson from the clunky, confusing and unashamedly derivative Night Watch. Sadly, once the 16th minute ticks over, Day Watch, makes the same mistakes as the first film, while somehow committing a few new ones.
Based on the second novel of a trilogy written by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko, Day Watch picks up the action shortly after the activities of the first film. A much wiser and experienced Anton Gorodetsky (Khabensky) returns, along with Svetlana Nazarova (Poroshina), a timid woman of potentially great power who he now trains for the Night Watch.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the world’s population is split in three – Light Others, Dark Others and everyone else. Naturally, the Dark and Light Others aren’t fond of each other, and to prevent the destruction of the world, struck a truce some 1000 years ago. To keep the deal in check, the Light Others patrol during the night for Dark Other activities that violate the truce, while the Dark Others do the same for the Light Others in the day.
In Night Watch, it was revealed that Svetlana is the Light’s Great Other, while Anton’s illegitimate child, Yegor, is the Dark’s Great Other. Day Watch serves as the build-up for a climatic battle between the two forces and a confrontation of the Great Others. Mixed in is the mystical Chalk of Fate, which is, quite literally, a piece of chalk that can rewrite the fate of the user.
What the film does right are the action scenes, intense set pieces that, while sometimes out of place, are enjoyable to watch for their shock value. There’s a bit with a car driving on a building, sideways, and an amazing five-minute chunk at the end involving lots of silver Christmas decorations.
The overall feel of the film is gritty and the cinematography sharp; both fit perfectly with a downtrodden Russia and the tense state of affairs that binds the Light and Dark.
The power of the film is snuffed however by Bekmambetov’s dislike of magical elements, one of the main themes of Lukyanenko’s novels. It’s a failing that was readily apparent in Night Watch, and even more so in the sequel. When the Others do use their powers, it’s a case of ‘Oh, you can do that? Why didn’t you just do that when…’. Anyone expecting a Russian X-Men will be extremely disappointed.
Perhaps the lack of magic would have been balanced by a strong plot with engaging character development, but again, the film can’t deliver. Except for Anton, none of the players are explored really, nor are their relationships and when they are, it’s so confusing as to be pointless.
The Chalk of Fate is also a bizarre facet in the story. Not only does it serve as the deus ex machina for the film’s disappointing conclusion, but for such a wickedly powerful artefact it proves incredibly easy to acquire and use.
Despite its faults, Day Watch is a better film than its predecessor. The plot is just as convoluted, or appears that way under Bekmambetov’s direction, but it’s much less derivative and the product placement not so obvious. If you hold tight to your brain as the story comes together, you might just come out of the cinema ambivalent.