Flashback to spring 2016, when Netflix announced they would be spending $90 million on an original movie starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton. Bright would be set in an alternate-reality version of Los Angeles where fantasy races all coexist. Up until this point, the streaming juggernaut Netflix has been known for releasing original TV shows. Netflix wanted to change up the game and create a film with a big budget. Did their gamble pay off? Yes and no.
Performances & Characters
This film, directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad, Fury) and written by Max Landis (Chronicle), is like Bad Boys meets Lord of the Rings. Will Smith plays Officer Daryl Ward and has an Orc partner named Nick Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton. From the start, their relationship might worry some viewers. During their first meeting, Ward is yelling at Jakoby to get off his lawn and not mess up his nice grass. This is right after Ward puts on a spectacle for the next-door neighbors, beating a fairy with a broom. Landis, most notable for his work on Chronicle, wanted Bright to echo the current racial climate. We find out more about why he does this, as the two characters have a history, but this seems a little forced.
What is with the excessive language? This movie would make Samuel L. Jackson look tame in comparison. Every other word is an expletive and most of the time comes off as unnecessary. The film tries too hard to be edgy with the excessive use of language.
Joel Edgerton gives a great performance as Jakoby, an Orc who becomes a police officer to the dismay of the rest of his kind. He is also an “unblooded” Orc, like his father and grandfather. Orcs, the film explains, can become “blooded” when they perform a heroic act. As far as the fantasy elements go, the Orcs are among the lowest beings in the hierarchy, with the Elves being the elite. Jakoby doesn’t understand why Orcs have a bad reputation. His character faces challenges on many occasions to prove he’s an Orc first and a police officer second. The audience can feel for Jakoby as he navigates through this world and grapples with being a disgrace to his own kind.
I don’t know who to blame for this, but Smith’s character was an unlikable guy from the start. He picks fights with other races, he puts Jakoby down every chance he gets, and he doesn’t get a wholly satisfying arc. The last thing he wants is for Jakoby to be his partner, as it means he will face criticism from his colleagues and family, but Ward experiences little growth from the moment he gets into the police car with Jakoby on what appears to be another routine call.
Edgar Ramirez plays Kandomere, an Elf in pursuit of a rare magic wand only Brights can use. These wands contain nuclear power and can grant wishes. Some of the writing is lazy for a fantasy film. The Magic Task Force in this film is essentially the Ministry of Magic from Harry Potter. And the Shield of Light is similar to a beefed-up version of the Walls of Light from the Dishonored games. Kandomere is a terrible villain, and his role is wasted as he tracks down the location of this new magic wand. The gangsters chasing Jakoby and Ward are scarier than Kandomere and the federal agents here.
Direction & Story
The theme of racial tension and prejudice between the Orcs, humans, and Elves is front and center in Bright. This is what intrigued me initially as I watched the previews for the film. From the opening credits, the film does a great job exploring the different factions and the realities of being different classes simply by showcasing different graffiti portraits on the streets of Los Angeles. The film begins to slowly fall apart once the movie introduces us to a Bright and the magic wand, and Jakoby and Ward must protect her from those who would use the wand for evil.
The music choices fit the narrative well. There is one memorable scene in the first act with Bastille’s “World Gone Mad” in the background. The lyrics of that song are juxtaposed with the chaotic scene unfolding on screen, and this is one of the brighter (pun intended) spots in the film. Logic’s “Broken People” plays as we are introduced to this world through graffiti images of the racial tension between each race and the heroes the Orcs look up to. I find it funny the Orcs have their own kind of music and it is heavy metal. In one comedic scene, Ward tells Jakoby to turn it off in their police car, and Jakoby protests. I can remember playing World of Warcraft back in the day as an Orc listening to Disturbed on my speakers. It led me to believe Orcs might listen to that kind of music if they existed.
This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have its moments. Slow motion and 360-degree shots reminiscent of the scenes from the Kingsman films are here. This is where the film really gets interesting because I could tell most of the budget went to the makeup and special effects.
Where Did This Movie Go Wrong?
It didn’t stick to its guns and it wasn’t exactly what the trailers previewed. Because this is a fantasy movie, it must have a certain checklist completed. It has the makings of a typical fantasy movie, from the different factions to the mysterious artifact. But it’s also trying to follow the formula of buddy-cop movies. This film cannot stick to one genre. If it were simply a cop movie without the different races, it would have been good. If it didn’t have the police aspect and was a straightforward fantasy film, it might not have worked as well. I don’t think the meshing of cops in Los Angeles with a fantasy premise was a good story choice. Bright tries to blend the genres together to give you an action/fantasy smoothie. The end result is disappointing, unfortunately.
The humor isn’t always spot on either. I heard a Shrek joke, a Tinder joke and a lot of rude humor from Ward to Jakoby. Will Smith can do better than this, because we’ve seen he can be a great comedic actor in movies like Hitch and Men in Black.
Netflix took a big risk putting this much money into a project to try to compete with the film industry. Is this movie as bad as Suicide Squad? No, because it’s entertaining enough for fans of both genres to enjoy. I do not consider this movie a bomb as most film critics on Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. I think a lot of audience members are curious to see how David Ayer handles a balance of both the fantasy and police procedural genres because this meshing of genres is ambitious. It is disappointing for me to tell you Bright does not emerge out of the gate as a home run. The film has already been given a sequel, and I’m curious to see how this world is going to expand. Given the events at the end of the film, we’ll get to explore Ward and Jakoby further as the film made some interesting character choices.