Dir: Timur Bekmambetov
Star: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Mariya Poroshina
The first in a Russian trilogy, the concept here is that the forces of good and evil reached an uneasy truce in the 14th century, and now keep an eye on each other to ensure balance. But prophecy tells of one person whose choice to join either side will tip the scales: the gloves are about to come off, in no uncertain terms. Obviously, as the first part, this is not a complete work, so can’t fairly be judged on its own (we assume the shapeshifting abilities of some characters will become relevant in due course), yet it still works well enough.
We could do with better character handling – their role, and even alignment, is often unclear well past their introduction – and generally, this would likely make more sense on a second viewing. I hope for a tighter hand on the script in the rest of the series; as is, this is about two rewrites short of adequate – the TV series Ultra Violet would have been instructive here. Otherwise, the imagery here is often amazing; despite a budget of supposedly only $5m, there are things here you’ve never seen before. The FX aren’t seamless, admittedly, but as this is set in a world hidden just below ours, that’s not unfitting – what you see is startling and, unlike many Hollywood films, serves a genuine purpose.
My favourite moment sees a doodle in the margin of a book, becoming a flip-book animation that reveals a backstory in animated form. Bekmambetov (previously only known here – marginally – for soft-porn female gladiator remake, The Arena) has a style that’s very easy to watch, with a great eye for visuals: He’s clearly a big Hollywood fan; unfortunately, right down to the glaringly obvious product placement. [Hello, Nescafe!] Still, there’s plenty here to prove, once again, that Hollywood is not the only place to find imaginative cinema.