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Bright (2017)
Movie Reviews

Bright (2017)

Netflix’s big-budget fantasy/action epic has solid storytelling, but isn’t nearly as fun as the premise deserves.

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LAPD beat cop Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is getting back on the force after recovering from a shotgun wound he got on duty with his orc partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). That’s right, I said “orc”, as this is a Los Angeles where the “races” Officer Ward tells his daughter about aren’t white/black/Asian/Hispanic… they’re human/orc/elf (and to a lesser extent, fairies). Ward is forced to partner with Jakoby (the only orc to ever become a policeman) against his wishes as everyone hates orcs.

When they respond to a call about a domestic disturbance, Ward and Jakoby find a crime scene littered with insanely killed bodies and the only suspect, a young elf girl named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who just happens to have her hands on the most dangerous weapon there is: a magic wand! When word gets out the two officers have a magic wand in their possession, they find themselves on the run and protecting the girl and wand from corrupt cops, an FBI team that specializes in magic, a group of elf assassins who want the wand to bring about the end of the world, a Hispanic gang, and a gang of orcs. High speed chases and shootouts ensue.

Netflix’s Bright could have been so much fun. I wanted it to be fun and exciting and… well… bright! I read the original screenplay by Max Landis (writer of Chronicle, Victor Frankenstein, and American Ultra) a couple days after he sold it to Netflix for a whopping $3M. I thought it was a lot of fun and a good read, minus a few spots where the dialogue could use a punch-up. It seems direct David Ayer (who also directed Suicide Squad, Fury, and End of Watch) had other plans.

All the fun from the original script is missing from this finished product. You’ve essentially got the various races from Lord of the Rings alive and well 2,000 years later in modern day Los Angeles, and the cops are after a magic wand. How could that not be loads of fun to watch? Easy, by making it a dark and gritty flick that takes itself entirely too seriously. I get it, David Ayer is basically known for gritty cop-based drama/thrillers. His stuff if visceral and gets right into the heat of the cops-and-robber action. But the thing he seems to have forgotten is that this story is about magic! Magic is supposed to be fun, even when it’s the dark and sinister kind like is showcased here.

Bright tries to lighten the mood with jokes and banter sprinkled throughout, but completely misses the mark as even these are delivered with dry, straight-faced sincerity. Speaking of funny one-liners, it’s nearly impossible to root for Will Smith’s character as he’s kind of a racist douchebag through the majority of the film, holding an endless grudge against his orcish partner and seeming to have no love for any other race. How can you root for someone who seems to hate everyone and is constantly riding his partner’s ass to the point of being harassment?

I believe Ward is only the principal focus of the film because Netflix spend a shitload of money on getting Will Smith for the part, so rewrites made him even more important than he already was. Really, the orc Jakoby (Edgerton, in full makeup) is the one we feel for and root for as he’s the one going out of his way to do the best he can and help people despite the fact that everyone hates him for the race he is… even his own kind hate him a) for being a cop and b) for never having been “Blooded”. He’s the one who has the biggest character arc, and yet (SPOILER ALERT) Ward is the one who nets a major reward at the end.

The acting in Bright is commendable, except for the poor attempts at humor. The cinematography looks great, except during fight scenes where everything is so jumpy it’s hard to keep up with any of the action. The music and soundtrack are spot-on, though, I’ll give it that. And the effects were cool, though perhaps not utilized enough.

The themes throughout of Bright don’t even try to be subtle. This is a race film first and foremost. This is evident right in the opening sequence with the line “Fairy lives don’t matter today!” And it never really lets up on showing how much every race hates one another and maintains segregated from one another. Is Bright the breakout box-office smash Netflix wants it to be? Not really, no. But it’s still a cool story that I just wish they would have had more fun with.