TL;DR – It is only the power of Will Smith and Joel Edgerton’s acting, plus some great makeup and prosthetic work, that drags this film out of being a complete write off.
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Ok, I want to start this by saying smashing genres and worlds together is kind of my jam, I love the worldbuilding, and taking something familiar and twisting it into something new. So when I heard the setting for Bright I was really excited. Taking those familiar fantasy setting, themes and races and transporting them into the modern world, it’s like Max Landis wrote a film just for me. But, and oh it is a big but, for the most part, it just does not work, and at best we get a mediocre C-List film with a B-List budget and A-List leading stars.
So to set the scene, this is a world where real events happened, like The Alamo, but also two-thousand years ago nine armies came together to defeat The Dark Lord. So we get a modern day Los Angeles, which is inhabited by Humans, Elves, Orcs, Fairies, also I think they mentioned Dwarves, and I am sure I saw a Centaur at one point. So, in reality, you can kind of sum up Bright as like Training Day thematically but with Orcs, and not as good. The film opens with Daryl Ward’s (Will Smith) first day back on the Los Angeles police force after being shot whilst his partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) the only Orc on the police force was off getting a burrito. So now he is back there is tension with his partner, he does not want to get shot being next to a bloodless Orc, tension with the other police officers, they want the Orc gone, oh and Internal Affairs was him gone too. Well, this all comes to a head when the pair accidentally stumbles across a safe house of an elvish cult trying to resurrect The Dark Lord, and find a magic wand, a rare artefact that only Brights can hold and wield. It is here when all hell breaks loose as everyone wants the wand.
So right from the start, Bright does not give you a good first impression for a number of reasons, the first being the worldbuilding. For a lot of the films run, it takes either a ‘shout exposition at you’ approach to worldbuilding, or the ‘hand-waving just go with it’ approach, and neither work. To add to this the dialogue is ham-fisted and stilted, and the racial allegories are less subtitle per say and more hit you in the face with a sledgehammer obvious. While there were some interesting features, all the time throughout the film there would be a piece of dialogue or plot elements that would just rip away at any emersion the film was going for. For example, at one point they make reference to the movie Shrek, which was a really odd pop-culture reference to draw upon. Firstly, because it’s been seven years since the last film, so they are not really the cultural touchstones that they use to be, if ever, but also immediately, during what should have been a very emotional scene, I was distracted wondering would they have actually made the Shrek films in this universe? It is these odd asides that is a hallmark of Max Landis’ work and like films such as American Ultra (see review) what we get are some interesting scenes and ideas, but something that narratively does not work as a whole. To add to this, the music feels uninspired and some (though not all) of the effects look like the style you would see in an early YouTube viral video and not a film in 2017.
Now to be clear, the film is not a complete disaster, or at least nowhere near the disaster I’ve seen in the headlines, indeed it actually has some good qualities. Look they don’t give Will Smith any good dialogue, but he is acted the heck out of what dialogue he has been given. Though after Collateral Beauty (see review) and Suicide Squad (see review), maybe he needs to be a bit more careful with the scripts he picks in the future. The highlight for me has to be Joel Edgerton’s turn as the orc Nick Jakoby. First, I think they did a really good job on the orc makeup and effects, making a prosthetic that looks real yet is malleable enough to act through is a tough job and I think they really pulled it off here. But beyond this, I think Joel imbued the character with real warmth and agency, and I found myself actually caring about what happened to him. As well as this, once we get out of the doldrums that is the first act of this film, and they have to go on the run after finding the magic wand, the movie picks up. I’m not sure if this elevates the film into good, but it does make it more watchable.
In the end, do we recommend Bright? Um maybe, if you think you can sit through a film with dialogue like “cop first or orc first”, or elves that can slice through waves of highly armed federal agents until they come up against the leads and then get strangely incompetent at their jobs, or even endure as we stroll through Elf Town which clearly has homages to apartheid but then we aren’t going to explore that subtext at all really. In many respects, I feel like this was a concept that had some really good conceptual ideas behind it, but maybe a film was the wrong medium to tell this story or show off this world. Instead, I think a limited run series would have been a much better fit for this story, and probably a much better return for Netflix for their money. So not the worst film I have seen this year, not even in the Top 10 there, but then also it is not a great film at all and just sort of feels like a missed opportunity all around.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Bright
Directed by – David Ayer
Written by – Max Landis
Music by – David Sardy
Cinematography by – Roman Vasyanov
Edited by – Michael Tronick
Starring – Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Lucy Fry, Noomi Rapace, Édgar Ramírez, Ike Barinholtz, Happy Anderson, Kenneth Choi, Margaret Cho, Andrea Navedo, Brad William Henke, Dawn Olivieri, Jay Hernandez & Enrique Murciano
Rating – Australia: MA15+