From Director David Ayer and Screenwriter Max Landis comes Netflix’s biggest-budget original movie to date, Bright. Does this film forge a confident path forward for Netflix and its original movie slate or is it more of a cautionary tale?
Set on an Earth where elements of high fantasy—elves, orcs, faeries, magic, etc.—interact with the modern day world, Bright tells the story of LAPD Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and his partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the LAPD’s first orc officer. As the movie opens, Ward is returning to duty after being shot in the line of duty by an orc perpetrator. Jakoby was unable to apprehend the shooter and an already tense partnership hits a fresh snag. Other officers like Pollard (Ike Barinholtz) hound Ward, telling him he needs to work to get Jakoby out of their precinct simply because he’s an orc and the humans don’t trust him. The partners come across an elf girl, Tikka (Lucy Fry), who is a “Bright,” or magic user, who is in possession of a magic wand, which is described by Jakoby as a “nuclear weapon.” Meanwhile, two federal agents—basically magic cops—Kandomere (Edgar Ramírez), an elf, and Montehugh (Happy Anderson), a human, are searching for a rogue elf, Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who is the wand’s owner and trying to bring back the Dark Lord, who basically sounds a lot like Sauron. It’s…it’s a lot to process, but the film generally sticks to tired cop movie tropes.
I found the world that Landis created to be very interesting, but the story he chose to tell to be the least interesting way to approach that world. This fascinating world is stuck in a typical, gritty cop movie, but even then, the tropes aren’t done correctly. I mean, if you’re going to recycle tired tropes, at least do it right. At the film’s start, Ward is already saddled with his orc partner—I don’t believe we’re told how long. Because we are dumped into the middle of this partnership, we are not introduced to Jakoby as Ward meets him, making it feel like we’re watching a sequel to a movie that was never made. On top of that, I’ve already seen a far superior LAPD film directed by David Ayer in End of Watch and he was also the screenwriter behind Training Day and Dark Blue—this is well-trodden ground for Ayer. So, if you’re doing a gritty cop movie, Ayer is your man, but I think this movie needed someone with a bit more whimsy to handle the magical elements. I also think the movie would have been far more interesting if the audience followed the magic cops around instead. At least in that case the audience would have one character that knew what the hell was going on and it might have opened up more of the world, which you lose when following around patrolmen.
The social commentary is a little ham-fisted as well. I wonder if any of the characters saw the irony in an African-American man having a problem with his partner because of his ethnicity. All the other cops that irrationally hate Jakoby are mostly dumb white guys that follow the Hollywood handbook of over the top racists, but I found it odd that Ward was discriminating against Jakoby because he was different. Murtaugh didn’t hate Riggs in Lethal Weapon because he was white; it was because he was crazy. Yes, Ward blames Jakoby for him getting shot and not catching the guy, but that’s completely illogical when you see the scene play out. Ward clearly dislikes Jakoby because he is “the other” and I found that made him pretty unlikable as a protagonist. I also felt uncomfortable with the orcs basically embodying every racist stereotype about African-Americans living in L.A. It was lazy writing. Beyond that, there are other things in this film that happen way too easily—I’ll forego details, so as to remain spoiler-free—but despite that, the world seems very detailed and fleshed out. I only wish the story was more interesting—case in point, you can see the twist at the end of the film coming from space.
Will Smith is fine, I guess, as Ward, but his character is all that well-written. I have to say, considering Smith has done mainly PG-13 fare throughout his career, it was almost shocking to hear expletives come out of his mouth. It felt like “Will Smith trying to be hard,” and it didn’t always work for me. I liked Joel Edgerton as Jakoby, but there are moments where he’s making jokes when jokes should not be made. And I’m not talking good jokes—they’re stupid nonsensical jokes. It felt at times like Landis and Ayer couldn’t decide whether to make Jakoby the dumb comic relief or the stoic orc. Edgar Ramírez does a good job conveying the elves’ condescending nature—they are the high class caste of Bright’s social structure. Again, would have liked to have known more about him, because he at least seemed to know what was going on. Noomi Rapace is fine, but her character is woefully underdeveloped. Lucy Fry is also kind of window dressing. She serves as an exposition delivery machine and speaks only Elvish…until the script calls for her to suddenly speak and understand English. A frustrating lot to say the least.
Overall, Bright can’t help but feel like wasted potential. Having high fantasy and modern day worlds crash into each other is a great concept, but the story built around it is tired. The characters are nothing to get excited about and you may find yourself wishing you were watching a better story.