Touted as Netflix’s first “blockbuster”, Bright has to work remarkably hard to be as decidedly mediocre as it is, which actually makes perfect sense, given its writer is Max Landis, himself languishing in marked mediocrity, despite all the opportunities his father’s name seemingly continues to provide him.
“It’s like Training Day meets Lord of the Rings.” That’s how Bright has been sold since day one. You take that premise, and you add director of End of Watch David Ayer (who, coincidentally, also wrote the aforementioned Training Day), and you’ve got gold, right? Well, it turns out what we actually got was Theodore Rex meets Shrek the Third and director of Suicide Squad David Ayer. Fool’s gold.
Added to this movie’s pile of wasted potential is a great cast, which is led by Will Smith. Now, I love Will Smith; who doesn’t? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course there are some people, but I’m not one of them. Will Smith has exactly two speeds: actor Will Smith and Will Smith Will Smith; he usually goes with the latter, but I’m okay with that because I genuinely do like them both. What I’m getting at here is The Pursuit of Happyness Will Smith is not in this movie. Ali Will Smith is not in this movie. Concussion Will Smith is not in this movie. Will Smith Will Smith is in this movie, and he does a fantastic Will Smith.
To provide a very basic outline of the plot, Will Smith plays Daryl, an LAPD officer who’s partnered with the department’s first Orc officer, Nick, who is played by Joel Edgerton. Humans hate Orcs because of racism, but the Orcs apparently earned the racism, so it’s okay racism? Anyway, man, I really like Joel Edgerton, too. He’s been acting for a long time, but he really landed on my–and a lot of people’s–radar with 2011’s Warrior, costarring Tom Hardy. He’s a good actor, and he does as well as he can with the script he was given here. I can’t help but feel bad for the guy because not only did he have to spend hours having Orc makeup applied every day of filming–and I like the makeup–but he’s also been doing the media rounds for this shitty movie and being just the most amiable guy about it, talking about how much of a superstar Will Smith is and just seeming really chill about everything. He didn’t deserve this terrible movie.
You know who else didn’t deserve this terrible movie? Noomi Rapace. She plays a dark elf who basically has her entire motivation explained by other people because Max Landis just cannot be bothered to write any real dialogue for an actress. You’d think, given how outspoken Landis has been about female characters like Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Amy Adams’ Louise Banks in Arrival, he would take one of his many “unearned” opportunities and use it to correct whatever errors he sees in those characters, but I digress. Or, you know, maybe this is actually him doing that. Maybe having Noomi Rapace be virtually silent for 90% of the movie and relegating Lucy Fry, who also plays an elf, to a series of screams, cries, and whimpers is Landis’ idea of how women should be treated in movies? It’s just, Noomi Rapace speaks five languages, for Christ sake. She can’t do more than T-1000 her way through strip clubs and alleyways? That’s really all you want her to do? Shit, I guess.
Overall, this movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It kind of wants to be a cop drama, at least Ayer seems to want it to be a cop drama, but there’s no meat on that bone. The gunfights here are sloppy, disorienting, and dimly lit as hell (ironically, given the film’s title). It kind of wants to be a social commentary, but it can’t decide whether it wants its allegorical racism to be taken seriously or played for a joke. Even then, as it haphazardly draws problematic parallels between the mistreatment of Orcs and real-world racism, it can’t help but employ tired stereotypes for actual characters of color. It kind of wants to be an urban fantasy film, but this alternate reality where fantasy creatures are supposed to have existed alongside humans for thousands of years does not feel lived in, at all. The only establishment of its universe, outside of its two main characters, comes in the form of hamfisted exposition vomit, like when Daryl and Nick drive through “Elftown”–seemingly for the first time–and talk about how elves are rich and “run the world”. You don’t actually feel that, though; there’s no moment where you’re made aware, at all, of anything outside of the LAPD and this handful of two-dimensional characters who don’t so much have backstories as much as they just say they have backstories and expect you to believe it. At one point, we actually see a centaur cop. Centaur. Cop. Let me meet that guy! Who is he? Is he from Los Angeles? Does he have a centaur family? I don’t know, but I’d really like to.
This movie is simply not any good, despite the cast putting in a commendable effort. It’s difficult to understand just what Netflix saw in this final product to make them greenlight a sequel before this first one even premiered on the streaming service. Admittedly, a better writer might be able to pull an intriguing story out of the premise, but will they go get a better writer? I mean, just hours before Bright premiered on Netflix, actress Anna Akana appeared to accuse Max Landis of having “sexually abused” and assaulted women, directly to Netflix on Twitter, so I guess it’s yet to be seen what’s going to happen with that and, less importantly, how it could potentially impact any sequel considerations here.
Written by a psychopath who sexually abused and assaults women, right? Cool
— Anna Akana (@AnnaAkana) December 22, 2017
However, if you did manage to pair a better writer with a different director who is more on-board with the fantasy elements of the story, you may actually salvage something here… or, you know, we could all just go watch Alien Nation; that’s also an option. As for Bright, though? Hard pass.