The Others walk among us, you know. People who seem like you or me but who are actually wizards, shapeshifters, sorcerers and other types of supernatural beings. There are Light Others and Dark Others, categorized not by skin tone but by degree of evilness, with each group keeping watch over the other to make sure they don’t use undue influence over the mortals whose world they inhabit.
This is big, meaty fantasy mythology, energetically splashed onto the screen in “Night Watch” (“Nochnoi Dozor”), one of the most Hollywoodized Russian films I’ve ever seen. There are no dreary Siberian wastelands in Timur Bekmambetov’s vision, no stilted, depressed dialogue. “Night Watch” pops with visual momentum, so much that by the end it’s chaotic, and finally just insane. Even the subtitles get into the action, moving with the characters or being wiped off the screen as someone walks in front of them.
All of this is in the service of a story that begins well but ultimately becomes confusing and inexplicable. When it’s hoppin’, though, it’s really hoppin’.
Based on a novel by Sergei Lukyanenko and adapted by Bekmambetov and Laeta Kalogridis, “Night Watch” begins in 1992 with a man named Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) discovering that he is an Other, with the specific abilities of a seer. Armed with this new knowledge of his powers, he joins the Night Watch, the group of Light Others who keep an eye on the Dark ones (who operate at night, of course), enforcing the laws of the two groups’ centuries-old truce. Now, in the present, he’s called upon to protect a young boy named Yegor (Dmitri Martynov), who is being summoned telepathically by a vampire.
Yes, there are vampires involved. Apparently, many (or perhaps all) of the Others, both Light and Dark, are vampires. The good ones refrain from drinking human blood, and the bad ones are supposed to do the same, but you know how it is with rogue nations.
Anyway, the boy plays a part in the grand scheme of things, with all the Others awaiting fulfillment of a prophecy in which a Great Other will come and choose between good and evil once and for all. Meanwhile, a tornado is heading for Moscow, and it’s somehow related to all this. Also, there’s a woman who is sometimes an owl.
Somewhere in all of this are several fairly deep ideas, including an elaborate anti-abortion message, no kidding. So what does it all mean when you put it together? Heaven only knows. But with resemblances to “X-Men,” “Blade” and a host of other action-packed American stories, “Night Watch” — with its jaunty attitude and sly sense of humor — feels familiar enough overall to make me overlook the incomprehensible parts.
B- (1 hr., 54 min.; Russian with subtitles; )