At the end of Night Watch, the sci-fi horror sensation that wowed Russia in 2004, forces of light and dark have re-established their uneasy truce, not so much avoiding apocalypse as postponing it. Day Watch picks up the story with the same heroes and villains struggling for supremacy, a conflagration between good and evil that transcends time, space and narrative plausibility. No matter. Both films, two-thirds of a trilogy written and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, based on the novels by Sergei Lukyanenko, are fantastic in all ways.
The movie titles refer to the squadrons established in the aftermath of a cataclysmic, but inconclusive, battle between antipodal armies in the distant past. Night Watch, made up of Light Others, are preternatural good guys who patrol Moscow to protect ordinary people from Dark Others, witches and vampires who dwell in the Gloom, a parallel universe to our own. Day Watch, the society of Dark Others, keeps tabs on the Light Others to ensure the shaky status quo. This alternative world goes unnoticed by mortals because it's heavily regulated: Vampires need hard-to-obtain licenses to prey on humans (they satisfy themselves with bloody meat), and miscreants are dealt with severely by an Other World Court (staffed with Soviet-style judge-and-executioners).
Day Watch embellishes the backstory by imagining the medieval conqueror Tamerlane's siege of Samarkand in fashionable CGI monotone, a piece of history pertinent to unfolding events because the 14th-century warrior used the Chalk of Fate to wage his campaigns. The Chalk, a handy time-bending tool, has been lost but not forgotten--not by Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky), the oleaginous thug who calls the shots for the evildoers, and not by Geser (Vladimir Menshov), the patient and resourceful leader of the benevolent bunch, and certainly not by Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), the world-weary Night Watch operative who unwittingly has reignited the long-smoldering conflict.
Anton, viewers of the prequel will recall, solicited the services of a black-market sorceress to hex his adulterous, and pregnant, girlfriend. The witch turned out to be a Dark Other unauthorized to cast spells, creating a contretemps in the alt U. More ominously, the baby has turned out to be one of the prophesized Great Others whose appearance signals end times. In his quest to make right his lapse in judgment, Anton has joined the forces of light (humans sometimes cross over) and now, 14 years later, he and his partner, Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), must confront their sinister counterparts in a battle for the Chalk of Fate and the soul of the boy, Yegor (Dmitry Martynov). Anton and the sexy Svetlana must also come to terms with their feelings for each other--love makes the Other World go round, too.
As the plot summary suggests, Day Watch, like Night Watch, doesn't take itself seriously, one of its chief charms. Bekmambetov may have the instincts of a music-video stylist (leather-clad operatives wear hipster sunglasses to see in the Gloom), but he has the soul of a satirist. To put it more pretentiously, the director no doubt borrows heavily from the Wachowskis' Matrix, but he appears well-versed in classic Russian writers like Mikhail Bulgakov, who used magical realism to spoof society long before Gabriel Garcia Marquez appropriated the form. Or maybe author Lukyanenko is responsible for the flick-lit quality of Bekmambetov's films; his books only recently have been translated into English.
At any rate, almost every scene in Day Watch sends up some aspect of modern Russia, particularly nouveau-gauche gangster chic. Then again, it's hard to imagine what would pass for high fashion in a country where four million dollars produces a CGI-driven fantasy with money left over to add special effects to the subtitles. Moscow on the Hudson? How about Hollywood on the Moskva?