Bright: Review

Written by: Carlos Zotomayor

Film | Dec 23, 2017

Bright Netflix

Despite the vague title hinting at a plot concerning flashlights and other luminescent objects, Bright is a very dark movie. The closest film reference you can get is Shrek; only instead of uptown Far Far Away, you get a rundown L.A. filled with mythical rejects who never made it into Dreamworks' animated picture.

The film revolves around two cops, Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), as they patrol the fantastical streets of the city of angels and unknowingly get caught up in some voodoo involving a magic wand, an elf, and the resurrection of a dark lord. Part cop drama, part fantasy story, the movie tries hard to blend two unlikely genres and ultimately falls flat doing both.

Let's dial it back: this is a Netflix-only film meant to experiment with different ways of storytelling.

On the cop drama side, both Daryl and Nick are pretty good leading protagonists. Will Smith once again acts like Will Smith: a fast-talking guy who thinks he's more badass than he really is. While he plays the seasoned Daryl and barks out the orders and wisecracks like it's his job (which it is), his performance doesn't really stand out from anything he's done before.

It's Joel Edgerton's Nick which keeps you interested for most of the movie. Being the sole orc cop in a city filled with criminal orcs is a way more interesting plot point than anything Will Smith goes through, and his determination to stay a good cop amidst a community that hates him can be seen all the way to the film's final scenes. It's this contrast between Daryl's tried-and-true Will Smith personality and Nick's new cop innocence that gives the films one of its few reasons to watch it.

One of the reasons NOT to watch the movie is its supporting cast. Tikka, the aforementioned elf and possible third protagonist of the film played by Lucy Fry, is the biggest example of the movie's use of characters as simple plot devices. There just aren't enough lines to justify her as the leading lady, much less the other characters.

The evil elves, the bad cops, the orc mafia: all they have are a couple of lines and some scenes in which they seem important before disappearing into irrelevance. Killing them off is a greater mercy than what happens to most of the cast.

Something similar happens to the worldbuilding in Bright, in which there isn't enough of it.

This is the reason audiences want to watch it in the first place: the blending of the real with the fantastical. Yet Bright does little more than spray paint orc graffiti and slap elf advertisements on city walls.

Where are the orc and elf influences on architecture, fashion, and culture? Why is magic so scarce in a world that looks like it's made up of the stuff? You can see the human influences in society, yet none from the other races. It's a shame, really. Given more time and effort, the movie would have had a unique world worth unraveling.

To go with this mundane world is a plot which pushes along without rhyme or reason. Early in the narrative, it shifts from being a cop drama to a Harry Potter film before going back to Daryl and Nick running from their pursuers.

The fantasy portion seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought, as questions regarding Brights, orc bigotry, and the dark lord (who I'm assuming is Lord Voldemort) are left hanging without explanation. And while the story tackles issues of race and corruption (albeit through a fantasy perspective), it never really gives a concrete statement about them.

All of this wraps up in a finale as unsatisfying and rushed as a one night stand. Just as you finally start to get a grip on the story, it throws curveballs during the last 15 minutes without explaining what just happened. I won't spoil anything from those final moments, but it's obvious the writers needed to close things off quick (probably because Will Smith is such an expensive actor and it was his last day on set).

Which brings me to this burning question: what if they removed the fantastical element of Bright's plot?

I'm not talking about the orcs, elves, and other fictional freaks of nature - those are needed to make the film less bland than it already is. I meant what if they removed the whole mumbo-jumbo about a dark lord rising and magic wands being portable Make-A-Wish foundations. Not only would the resulting plot be more centered, but it would allow for better worldbuilding and focus on characters that aren't boiled down to two pages of dialogue.

As it stands, Bright suffers from poor execution on a promising prospect. It might do better as a series where Daryl and Nick solve crimes in the fictional L.A. underbelly, but getting that to happen is as likely as Will Smith playing a supporting role.

About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.

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