BRIGHT: A Misguided Magical Disappointment
Bright is a film trying too hard, with an execution that leaves something to be desired. What is good gets smothered under the excess, and while it might keep some entertained it doesn't stick with you.
A divide has formed over the recently released Netflix film Bright (their biggest yet) between critics and audiences. With an audience score of 88% to the critic’s 28% (at the time of writing this), it leaves you to wonder, why such a stark difference?
Before I even saw the film, I saw that it was being hailed as “the worst film of 2017” by some. My expectations weren’t extremely high, but I also knew from the trailer/description what kind of movie this was going to be. The question was whether it would excel in its purpose.
Was it as bad as many say?
No, but it still wasn’t very good.
A New-ish World
There was a time when Will Smith headlining a film was a huge draw. The Oscar-nominated actor has had several successful roles, but lately (Concussion aside) his films haven’t been received as well. In his last collaboration with director David Ayer (DC’s Suicide Squad) he was thoroughly underused and even his best efforts didn’t pay off.
In Bright, which takes inspiration from many movies including some of Ayer’s own (End of Watch and Training Day, for which he wrote the script), as well as fantasies such as Lord of the Rings, there is a genre mashup. This fantastical buddy-cop movie hits a variety of themes all in one film, which makes for a chaotic narrative.
First let’s point out the world. This film takes place in an alternate L.A. made up of varied species. Orcs, elves, fairies and humans (we even spot a lone dragon flying over the city in one of the film’s more creative shots) all live together, though not equally.
Apparently, there was once a horrible war featuring a Dark Lord and Orcs choosing the wrong side. That’s all the story gives us, clearly gearing up for a planned sequel (which apparently has already been green-lit).
Will Smith is Daryl Ward, an LAPD cop struggling with supporting his family, and stuck with the first Orc police officer in history due to the “diversity hire program,” the unwavering Nick Jakoby. Enter Joel Edgerton, in so much makeup/prosthetics you quickly forget that it is him.
It’s an unenthusiastic pairing from Ward’s point of view, and Jakoby is a loner, with no friends on the force and no friends in his fellow species. The Orcs think he’s a traitor while the other offices consider him a hazard.
One Long Night
When answering a call, ironically Smith’s first day back after taking a shot to the chest (Jakoby’s fault), they unexpectedly stumble across magic. Magic seems to basically be forbidden, but it’s not explained, so the limitations on this are never really established. One thing for sure, wands = bad news.
There is even a special federal branch called the Magic Task Force, including Kandomere (Edgar Ramirez), responsible for hunting wands and “Brights.” These are people who can touch a wand and harness its power. It’s a game of Russian roulette, though; you won’t know until you grip the weapon and if you are wrong you explode.
The two cops, whose relationship is erratic, flitting between respect and embarrassment too often, meet Lucy Fry’s Tikka. She’s an elf (and a Bright) who is now good, but wasn’t before…? Tikka has been cast out of a group insistent on bringing back the Dark Lord and turning the world into his slaves. They are close too: if dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace) gets her wand back, the apocalyptic process will begin.
Bright quickly becomes one of those films that takes place all in one rapid-fire night. The discovery of magic turns friends into foes, brings various gangs out in search, and draws the attention of Rapace and her nimble subordinates. The three make their way through the city while evading, giving us brief visions of this fantasy world, all while a bond forms between the two officers.
As if you thought it wouldn’t.
The film is heavy on the social commentary, and has lines like “fairy lives don’t matter today,” that are as unnecessary as they are unfunny. A lot of the dialogue falls flat, and while I saw flashes of the lovable Will Smith it’s still not hitting the potential of his charisma.
Visually there are some effects to like, and as a fan of Dark Fantasy I think more could have been explored. It is a world that is rich with possibilities, but instead of anything deepened we get generic statements like “don’t go through elf town.” Bright could benefit from a shift in priorities.
Character development takes a backseat to egregious action and a plot with holes that still manages to be predictable. It’s clunky and hasty, somehow still maintaining a two-hour runtime.
With the script (written by Max Landis), the flaws outweigh the rest and even the best intentions become problematic. The idea isn’t a bad one, so with more wit and less obvious social cues, this film could have possibly risen above its faults.
Still, Bright isn’t the worst movie of the year. Obviously, this is subjective and we all have our varying cinematic tastes, but if you come into this expecting Oscar level work you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
One of Bright’s biggest issues is its desire to give us a lot without the follow through. We get a great deal of introductions, but are deprived of true connection. David Ayer is insistent on repeating mistakes and holding back on the things that would round the story out. Instead, the focus is on messy, ugly action sequences. He brings his usual pairing of grit and macho to the screen, preparing us up for something big that manages to deflate early on.
Smith does all he can to inject humor into his performance, but when watching him beat a fairy with a broom you can’t help but ask – why? Exchanges between the two leads often disappoint, leaving us on the precipice of funny. Edgerton is basically unrecognizable, but he still manages to execute emotion. Despite being the Orc here he’s the most human character of them all, with more compassion and heart than the film itself.
Overall, Bright is a film trying too hard, with an execution that leaves something to be desired. What is good here gets smothered under the excess and while it might keep some entertained it doesn’t stick with you.
Are you with the critics or the audience? Tell us what you think!
Bright is currently streaming on Netflix.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.