Police Officers Ward (Will Smith) and token Orc Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) fight off Elves, Orcs and humans all in a night of mythical hell to protect a mysterious Elf and a weapon everybody wants.
Perhaps Netflix’s biggest original movie yet refreshes Will Smith’s box office persona following a trying few years in placing him within relatively new distribution contexts. As De Niro and Pacino are set to star together in their own Netflix Original, The Irishman, and the slump Hollywood has seen this year, we are in uncertain territory regarding the future of film production, distribution and thus spectatorship.
David Ayer’s new Netflix Original, an amalgamation of fantasy and cop thriller, mirrors in many ways the plot and tone of his own Suicide Squad, only Bright has the benefit of boasting a unique, intriguing world from which springs a straightforward story. Some have, rightfully, also compared the movie to Ayer’s End of Watch, the dynamic between two police partners experiencing the worst possible of evenings ringing true here.
The brightest side of this movie is the universe in which the characters and events occur. In an alternate timeline, humanity is living not-so-harmoniously alongside mythical creatures straight out of your Tolkien books or Elder Scrolls games. A war between the races 2000 years ago united and divided all against a Dark Lord. Now, in modern-day Los Angeles, Orcs are looked upon negatively for choices their ancestors made, while Elves, as always, occupy a place of prestige, wealth and power. What is great about Bright is the lack of forceful exposition or massively opening titles – we learn mostly of the world and its history through character interaction, visual signifiers and natural-feeling dialogue in small doses throughout, giving us reason to stick around and learn more.
What of course comes of this universe of fantastical racial divide and segregation is a commentary on the current issues society faces. ‘Fairy lives don’t matter today!”, Smith says as he beats a fairy to death with a broom. In all fairness, it’s not your typical Tinkerbell. What is interesting about some of the overt topical references is found within Smith’s dialogue. As Ward teaches his daughter the ways of the world, he tells her:
‘Orcs aren’t dumb. Okay? All the races are different than us. And being different doesn’t make them smarter or dumber. They’re just like us. Okay? Everyone just wants to get along and be happy.’
In our polarized political landscape, there is often little room to consider the idea that we are all individuals trying to lead a happy life. Both ends of the political spectrum are guilty of massive generalisations, so it was interesting to have a film take a more balanced standpoint.
The world of Bright is a vast, magical world of which we only get a glimpse. In one establishing shot, a dragon flies in a darkened sky, and that is your dragon fill. In essence, what we have is a rather generic cop run all night story with a fantastic lore, history and world to build upon in sequels. In a summer of failed franchise debuts looking to take a piece of Marvel’s cake (King Arthur, The Mummy) or continue overcooking their own (Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean), Bright does not force the notion. Yet, by the conclusion, the audience wants to learn more and experience the universe on a deeper level, building upon the enormous world we have been teased.
Audiences will of course want Smith and Edgerton back as respective characters, Smith bouncing back after offering the best of a bad situation with Suicide Squad, and Edgerton continuing his varied and stellar career. The pair perform well together as their relationship develops over the course of the night; Smith, the grumpy human cop looking forward to retirement, suspicious of his Orc partner’s loyalties, Edgerton excelling in his layers of make up and prosthetics, delivering the film’s most powerful performance as an Unblooded Orc, deemed a traitor by his own people and an animal by humans for his races’ part in a war some 2000 years ago. Orc reparations are not mentioned, but the notion of holding historical grudges seems to be something the film conveys as a unrewarding practice through its dialogue.
Overall, Bright is far brighter than what the critics imply. This enjoyable movie with a deep universe waiting to be expanded upon is only slightly let down by a generic script, some unfavorable darkened action sequences and a somewhat predictable ending. If you are looking for a blockbuster movie that is more coherent narratively speaking, holding a comfortable running time, and more affordable than a cinema release, Bright is probably the film for you this Christmas.
The Film Fanatic