Movie Review: ‘BRIGHT’ (2017)
Netflix’s ambitious original production of a fantasy crime thriller ‘Bright’ has become a stupendous failure, regardless of the medium it was released in.
‘Bright’s only saving grace for its producers, was that it was not released theatrically.
Rating: ★★ (/5)
‘Bright’ is set in a world with an alternative history that sees the fantastical creatures of Orcs, Elves and other mythological creatures as real. The opening credits show, through graffiti, a world where Orcs are seen as the downtrodden and the minority. You would think this would impact the history of this world in other ways, but you’d be wrong.
Police officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is untrusting of his partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). This is due to Jakoby being an Orc, a race of violent, tribal creatures loyal to each other, and essentially shown to be a mirror of gang bangers or street thugs. Jakoby is seen a diversity hire by other members of the police force, and hated just as much.
This fragile dynamic between the two partners are tested even further when they find an Elf on the run named Tikka, (Lucy Fry) and the three are tossed into a situation where they become fugitives from the law, being chased by corrupt police, local gangs and being involved in an inter-magical goose chase for a magic wand; something that is the equivalent of a magical nuclear bomb, if fallen into the wrong hands.
‘Bright’ tries to build an incredibly amazing world where the lines between fantasy and reality blur within one another. The attempt at creating an alternate history where these creatures exist and how the socio-economic, and racial attitudes have evolved due to it, is an incredibly interesting idea.
Writer Max Landis, of ‘Chronicle’ fame, attempted to create a universe that would be a great genre mashup of the typical fantasy story with a gritty, street level crime drama. However, while ‘Bright’ has a great concept, and sounds like an amazing idea on paper, the final product is a shoddy thing that doesn’t hold up to its own scrutiny.
While the world building seems nuanced, it’s rather shallow, and doesn’t make much sense with a little digging. As mentioned, the Orcs are supposed to be the downtrodden minority; the racial group that is below the poverty line, live in low income housing, the ones involved in all the gang violence, and all the usual stereotypes that come with the trope. However, for some reason, this world also sees the real-world minority groups in the same conditions. If Orcs replaced the minority and working class in an alternate but similarly racially tense America, then why does so much of the world that we recognize co-exist within these new found dynamics?
Beyond just these new races living here, nothing else is different from the world that we know. The status quo remains the same. It seems like the usual minority groups have been replaced with these other fantasy creatures and that’s all. Even the story and the dynamic between the two main leads feels very familiar, with nothing new added to it.
As an Orc, Jakoby is seen like a traitor to other Orcs, while never being accepted by Humans. It’s a similar storyline of inner city kid becoming an officer of the law, and facing obstacles from both sides.
‘Bright’ also introduces sub-plots with no rhyme or reason, with rules of magic that make even less sense.
A group of police officers all of a sudden decide to kill other cops in order to steal a magic wand (see MacGuffin) that has the power to grant wishes. However, the story establishes that the wand won’t work unless wielded by someone with the ability and knowledge to use it; a Bright. If one is not a Bright, and they try to use the wand, they violently implode, killing others around them as well. The wand apparently also requires knowledge of spells to be used, as Tikka herself mentions when explaining that she’s just learning and doesn’t know all the spells.
So the entire goose chase for this wand makes no sense when you realize that odds are that none of the humans chasing after it will be able to use it. And even if they end up being a Bright and don’t explosively disintegrate, they still don’t have the proper training to use the wand regardless!
It’s these major inconsistencies in story and world building that make me unable to completely like ‘Bright’, despite wanting so badly to. And then you factor in the performances.
‘Bright’ has a lot of characters with moustaches. It feels like it’s made to be set in the 90’s maybe? Will Smith gives a performance of a cop very much like his ‘Bad Boys’ or ‘Men In Black’ roles, but less fun; similar to ‘Suicide Squad’, but less badass. It’s just less all around.
Noomi Rapace shows up as a deadly Elf who the wand actually belongs to. With not a lot of dialogue, Rapace delivers in the intimidating and physically demanding role that she is required to serve. The one performance that makes ‘Bright’ worth watching (still not really) is Joel Edgerton’s Jakoby.
Under the weight of immense make up and prosthetics, Edgerton is unrecognizable. Yet he plays Jakoby like a cheerful and optimistic cop, despite having enough reason to be bitter and jaded. Jakoby is hated by all, yet is still able to maintain almost a child-like innocence and idealism that comes with the rookie cop archetype. Majority of the jokes of the movie come from Jakoby’s Orc-in-a-Human-world shtick.
‘Bright’ is confusing, shortsighted and incredibly shallow. The setting doesn’t allow for the contemplative parallels to the real world as the writer intended. The execution by director David Ayer is admirable, but falls flat with the writing and dialogues. While an incredibly interesting concept, ‘Bright’ fails in evoking anything other than head scratching plot holes and and entirely predictable climax.
Instead of watching ‘Bright’, one should just watch ‘Alien Nation’ instead, as it has a similar setting, but is able to deal with the racial parallels a lot more intelligently.