Director: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace
Length: 1hr 57m
In what some have labelled one of the worst years in cinema’s history, many have found comfort in the quality programming offered by online streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Far from the reaches of Hollywood’s repetitive fare, Netflix in particular continues to provide viewers with a huge variety of critically-acclaimed, original TV shows across a plethora of genres. This year alone the streaming service has hit a string of homeruns, with programmes like The Punisher, as well as the second season of coming-of-age sci-fi series Stranger Things, receiving positive feedback from critics. However, Netflix’s golden touch has not extended so effortlessly to their feature film division, with originals like The Ridiculous Six and the manga adaptation Death Note proving to be non-starters. Nevertheless, they once again throw their hat into the ring with Bright, a fantasy crime drama mash-up, which – boasting a budget of over $90m – can be thought of as Netflix’s first real blockbuster. Unfortunately, in a year wrought with disappointing, big-budget duds, Bright is not a unique experience.
The film takes place in an alternate Earth, wherein fairy tale creatures (orcs, elves, centaurs etc.) live alongside humanity. Despite the existence of these staples of folklore, human culture is virtually unchanged. However, the different races dwell in a state of tension, with elves positioned at the height of society, whilst orcs serve as a reviled underclass. Our window into this strange new world is Will Smith’s Scott Ward, an LAPD cop returning from injury at the outset of the film. He is partnered with orc police officer Nick Jakoby, portrayed by Joel Edgerton. What begins as a standard day on patrol soon devolves into chaos when the pair discover a magic wand. Joined by Tikka (Lucy Fry), a young elf with a connection to the wand, the pair must fight for survival as they attempt to keep the magical device from a number of sinister parties seeking its capture.
The world established in Bright is certainly the film’s most interesting component, but also serves as its biggest let-down. Although the film’s first act gradually draws us into the world, granting brief glimpses at a universe wrought with possible stories, we are quickly locked into an uninteresting, formulaic plotline, which fails to explore this new and interesting society. Said plot entails an ancient prophecy, a dark lord, and a whole host of other fantasy clichés which fail to be fleshed out. So insignificant are these narrative details that one could easily remove them from the film (indeed, one could overhaul the entire fantasy element altogether) and the story of Bright would be little changed. Ultimately, by failing to examine the world it establishes, the film squanders its interesting premise, making the fantastical aspects of the story appear mere set dressing for a bog-standard cop drama. It is incredibly frustrating watching the narrative unfold when one is convinced that a more interesting tale could be taking place right around the corner.
The film’s lacklustre plot is punctuated with a cast of unlikeable characters. Will Smith’s performance as the film’s lead protagonist is inoffensive, but his natural charisma cannot transfigure Ward into being an engaging on-screen presence. Joel Edgerton’s Jakoby is perhaps more layered than his partner, but, buried under admittedly-nifty prosthetics, virtually anyone could have taken on the role. From the outset, the foul-mouthed Ward shows contempt for his partner, a sentiment seemingly shared by the entirety of the LAPD. This is far from being a buddy-cop film, with Ward’s jabs at his partner proving so sharp that they turn much of Bright into a dismal experience. As the film progresses, Ward and Jakoby grow closer as they battle through the streets of Los Angeles, but their inevitable reconciliation falls completely flat. Tikka, the young elf who accompanies them, never develops beyond being a minor inconvenience. Noomi Rapace serves as the film’s main antagonist, providing a bland performance. However, saddled with a very vague motivation, and granted only a handful of throwaway lines throughout, it is hard to blame her; not since Thor: The Dark World has an evil elf been so forgettable.
Despite the presence of screenwriter Max Landis’ zippy dialogue, the film feels incredibly dour, with moments of levity failing to connect pretty much universally. David Ayer’s direction does not elevate proceedings either. Despite the possibilities presented by the fantastical world of Bright, there is little visual or creative flare. For instance, we are told that the film’s MacGuffin – the magic wand – is capable of fulfilling any wish. However, beyond a few sparse moments of CGI banality, we never see the wand’s true power. Here we run into yet another of the film’s myriad problems: exposition. As was the case in Ayer’s previous work Suicide Squad, the film struggles to tell its story visually, preferring to explain the plot through awkward exposition dumps. Scenes of action similarly fail to disrupt the monotony, comprising of unengaging gun fights and vehicular carnage, all to the sound of glorified temp tunes. The only potentially interesting action sequence sees Ward and Jakoby handcuffed just as the villains arrive on the scene. Unfortunately, the pair almost immediately escape from their restraints, removing any semblance of tension which the scene may have commanded.
Bright does attempt some social commentary, but, as with every other aspect of the film, it fails to dip more than a toe in. The commentary that is on show is somewhat ham-fisted, with the orcs representing any number of racial minorities, but at least there is a pulse. Nevertheless, the ending of Bright is so abrupt that it fails to provide any answers to the societal problems which the film purports to examine. There is no inclination that the world of the film is at all changed; there is no hope for the down-beaten orcs, nor restoration of the seemingly corrupt police system. It just ends, making the entire experience feel futile.
Ultimately, Bright is a disappointing, largely dull cop drama, which fails to explore the interesting premise on which it is predicated. There is nothing egregiously bad about the film, but there are equally few moments of intrigue or creativity. As a result, the film is a bit of a bore, with a dour tone which only serves to kneecap the experience further. After the critical failure of Suicide Squad, Ayer and Smith needed a hit to restore their waning credibility. In this regard, Bright could not have landed at a more inappropriate time.