Night Watch

Constantine, but in Russian
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2004
Director: 
Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: 
Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Dmitry Martynov
The Setup: 
Good against evil, humanity in the balance, you know, the same old trip.
Discussion: 

I had heard some really good things about this and its trippy visuals, so I was pretty stoked to see it. It turns out to be a fairly agreeable way to spend two hours [and it surely did zip by quickly], but I wouldn’t expect much more from that. Unless you’ve never seen The Matrix, or Buffy, or… anything really. If you’ve been Amish for the past 10 years, you might want to see this movie.

So after this prologue in which it is explained that there was some big-ass war between good and evil, and they called a truce and split into… you know what, I can’t even bother to explain it. Go to some other site and find out what the shit is going on. The point is there is, as always, good and evil, with humans in the middle. And our hero, Anton, can see them both, whereas they aren’t usually visible to humans. And he’s assigned to go find and protect this kid who is being called by these vampires… it’s complicated. And this whole thing is preceded by a long flashback that sets up the whole movie. Then it just starts barreling on with one set-piece after another and hopefully you’ll figure it out or be too distracted to care.

You know how foreign movies that are influenced by The Matrix or any number of other ‘cool’ American movies always seem to kind of miss the point or just get something [or some number of things] fatally wrong when they try to reproduce them? The freshest example in my mind is Godzilla: Final Wars, in which they went for a lot of Matrix-y [and X-Men-y] action, married to classic monster movie fun, and just ended up with a movie that was so flailing, frenetic, and desperate that it all just cancelled itself out. This one is less like that than many, but is still kind of in that vein. There are battles, weird spiritual imagery, cyclones made of crows, toys that sprout spider legs… and it all just doesn’t come to very much. Plus, everything is amped-up in dialogue, but doesn’t really come through in the story. You have the biggest cyclone ever in Moscow, accompanied by the highest winds ever, and yet everyone is walking around okay and we see no evidence of these high winds. The cyclone also takes about 17 days to develop, and then we’re told that they just stopped it in a nick of time. Similarly, there’s a plane that’s about to crash, and then we leave it to check in on our heroes, and when we come back to it after what seems like two hours later… it’s still just about to crash! Then we leave it again and come back again… and this kind of stuff goes on for the whole last half of the movie. And you know what that means: filmmakers who are more concerned with going for cool sensation and excitement without worrying if what they’re filming actually makes sense within the story. And I cannot believe the Russians submitted this thing for Academy Award consideration! THIS? After Burnt by the Sun?

As I said, it all went by quite swiftly and I was thoroughly entertained, but once it was over, I thought “What’s the big deal?” WHY is this getting such good reviews? I knew it was similar to a lot of things I had seen, but I couldn’t think of one in particular, until it hit me: This is Constantine. This is Constantine, but in Russian. The difference is that Constantine was in English [so we knew precisely how banal it was, instead of not quite understanding and assuming it’s better than it is], it was based on a comic people had associations to, and it starred Keanu Reeves, who many people don’t like. And I think that the only reason people like this and don’t like Constantine is that this is in Russian, and it’s a foreign film. Other than that they’re very much the same, from the clearly-defined factions of good and evil fighting over individual human souls to the need to have a mind-blowing special effect every few seconds. Thing is, I think Constantine had a much more coherent and compelling mythology and backstory. Ah well.

You could do worse. It’s fun. I don’t know that I think the rest of them are going to be worth sitting through, however, at least for me. I would definitely recommend that they wait at least a year and aim for late February again…

Should you watch it: 

It’s entertaining.