Netflix’s first feature film Bright has received various amounts of praise and hate since it released on December 22, 2017. I’m not sure it’s warranted seeing as it’s about as culturally significant as a deep-dive into the Nicki Minaj v. Remy Ma beef, but hey, it has orcs and fairies and elves, oh my! It’s Ayers’ slick Training Day – esque photography and action-packed cop ass-kicking sandwiched between the unoriginal dialogue, undeveloped plot and one-dimensional characters of writer Max Landis that leave this movie hanging like a dingleberry.
Bright stars Will Smith as Darryl Ward, a veteran LA cop returning to duty after being on leave for several months due to a rookie mistake by his Orc partner, Nick Jacoby (Joel Edgerton), which resulted in Ward being shot in the line duty. Ward and Jacoby live in an alternate reality of modern L.A. where humans and fairy-tale beings – Orcs, Elves, and Fairies, and other creatures – have cohabited for many millennia. Jacoby is the first ever Orc police officer and obvious diversity hire, a point they bang on incessantly. The majority of the human LAPD want to see Jacoby kicked out solely for being a non-human, but, Ward is just trying to make the five years to his pension with no drama.
What starts out as a mundane night patrol quickly goes array when Ward and Jacoby stumble upon the horrific results of a downtown crime scene. It’s here that they discover a magic wand – an ancient relic turned urban legend that can only be used by individuals known as Brights, all others will explode if they touch it barehanded. They also find a seemingly deaf and mute elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry). Soon the trio find themselves on the run from dirty cops, tyrannical human and Orc gangsters and a mythically dangerous elf named Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who wants to use the wand to summon “The Dark Lord” – yes, I know – all while doing their best to protect the wand.
Despite how ridiculous all that sounds, audiences loved the movie for the most part, giving it an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. To some degree I agree with that. It has a great soundtrack and it’s an interesting concept: humans and mythical creatures coexisting like Lord of The Rings really happened. For the most part, I even like that the movie never tries to explain how that happened. They could’ve easily added a bunch of flashbacks scenes to the “dawn of time” to explain that but they didn’t and for that Landis gets a cookie. Though that probably had more to do with the sheer cost of all that makeup and CGI.
The scene where Ward guns down the four corrupt cops trying to kill him and Jacoby over the magic wand was pure cinematic nut-busting at its finest. I had to rewind that and watch it again a couple of times but the movie is largely unwatchable. The last third is just a hot mess of horrible dialogue spoken mostly by two characters and plot holes the size of canyons badly covered up with over-the-top action sequences and oh, a one in million human Bright. And how long do Ward and Jacoby really need to lay on the concrete, beat up from victory and jerking off with that Lethal Weapon dialogue? That was just painful.
Did you notice the hidden message in the Netflix movie Bright?
— The Black Detour (@theblackdetour) December 26, 2017
The bigger issue with the movie is whether it was a half-assed attempt at a comment on systematic corruption, police in-fighting and racism; or just another one of David Ayers waxed poetics about his love affair with the LAPD. At no point do Ayers and Landis try to resolve this question and that thrusts a “bright” light onto all of the movie’s faults. I respect the attempt at a re-imaging of the sci-fi buddy cop flick in the vein of Alien Nation but the super realism in the photography juxtaposed by lack-luster CGI (i.e. the fairy, glowing pool, Bright wielding of the wand) and the uninteresting MacGuffin of “the wand” throw the whole thing too close to a Men in Black to take it all seriously. Add to that some very egregious sloppy writing and now wonder critics ripped it apart.
Landis did a shoddy job of building the world the movie takes place in. In the beginning of the movie, we are immediately shown all the creatures that exist in this world and the gritty, debaucherous nature of the opening sequence makes us believe it. And we keep believing it (though the scene with the fairy takes us out a bit) until that god-awful, boring ass wand comes into the story. Really? A wand? Couldn’t stretch your mind to a glowing orb or magical rock or something else there? I mean my mind goes directly to “a heart of The Dark Lord”. It’s so typical it hurts and robs the script of any originality it had. And the conformity doesn’t end there.
Ward’s character is nothing but a flat-footed grouch of a veteran trying to make it to retirement whilst Jacoby is but a naïve rookie trying to be a “credit to his race” and live out a childhood dream. Both characters are one-dimensional, archetypal bores. Not to mention the barely supporting characters of Ward’s wife and child we only ever see in the first five minutes and half-realized “brother” Orcs only there for a shitty backstory attempt and excuse for some CGI to bring Jacoby back from the dead. Let us not forget the uneventful “blooding”.
As for the attempts at challenging racism via fantasy parable – they’re more than a little suspicious. Yes, Jacoby is the diversity hire, going through the same things Ward would’ve been had the movie been set in the 1960s, but then why are all the other characters of color the same stereotypes that every cop movie exploits? Black people only fit into the story as either gangster stereotypes or as a highly uncomfortable recode as a violent breed of ugly beasts, responsible for their own oppression because they “fought with The Dark Lord”. What is Landis trying to say about black people? And let’s not even get into why we need to have mythical creatures in the first place to have a discussion about race.
As for a comment on police corruption, it’s uninspiring at best. Yes the other cops want to kill them for the wand but after Ward kills them all that troupe doesn’t really make sense. It’s totally plausible that the department would think Ward and Jacoby had gone rouge and killed fellow officers without it being a corruption plot. Ayers and Landis must have known the overarching theme was lacking because they tried to fix it by adding two more horrible scenes to what was so obviously supposed to be the ending (the Lethal Weapon-like laying on concrete scene). A recoup scene in a hospital where Jacoby learns what systemic corruption looks like; and an award ceremony to really drive The Thin Blue Line wannabe plot home. NOT!
What’s sad is that a sequel is already in the works. The whole movie is just a “bright” example of why white people raised in extreme white privilege (Max Landis, the son of Director John Landis) shouldn’t be trying to make any comments on what they would surely never, and more than likely haven’t, experienced themselves.
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