Director: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez
Plot: In a world where humans, elves and orcs co-exist, tired LA cop, Ward (Smith) is forced to work with the first Orc police officer (Edgerton), despite his racial prejudices.
Netflix’s latest movie, and perhaps its most hyped, starts off strong. It essentially delivers on the promise of its interesting premise. It takes the fantasy trademarks of the likes of Lord of the Rings and Elder Scrolls, but forces it into a modern day setting. Cue a time where the Dark Ages (read a typical Sauron scenario), is Earth’s ancient history and now these diverse races live together, albeit with severe racial prejudice. It echoes the hidden conflicts between races in our own reality: reasons for racism are buried far back in our history, where wariness over a new tribe was wise, but now is little more than an excuse to breed hatred in society. David Ayer does the usual trick of racism in cinema: standing on the outside, it is hard not to feel how petty and useless it is. How is it possible to be a racist character and not come across as the movie’s asshole? Joel Edgerton is great here, the poor actor buried under prosthetics to the point where you need IMDb on hand to even figure out who is snarling the Orcish dialogue at us, but it is a performance worthy of recognition. It is hard not to feel for the Orc who has always wanted to be a cop, but when he achieves his dream, he is confronted with constant barrage of abuse from humans and orcs. Ayer’s movie might be filled with the usual critters that you associate with light-hearted entertainment, but at times, it is a bleak ride. The casting of Will Smith is seemingly to lighten Bright up a bit. Smith might have done the buddy cop movie routine to death, but he is always welcome on a movie screen, bleeding charisma throughout the entire running time. His sly remarks might come with more swearing than we are used to from the actor, but he still entertains, whether he is snarling a quip just before a kill or smashing a fairy to pieces with a broom.
Sadly, it quickly falls to pieces. What starts as a fly-on-the-wall cop movie explodes into garbled fantasy action. There is a prophecy, a magical object everyone wants and mutterings of a Dark Lord. The problem with fantasy plots is that they are often hammy, so when this one is lumped into Bright, a movie wanting to come across as a gritty, realistic cop thriller, it is painfully jarring. Smith and Edgerton do their best to hold it together with genuine emotion and sharp dialogue, but the plot keeps dragging them back to square one. The action is relentless, one baddie quickly swapped for another and little time to register what is going on in between. There are moments worth praising, but there are also several narrative beats that feel forced. The good guys are in a corner until another character rushes into the scene. The good guys are in danger until a face from the past shows up. The good guys are in danger until magic. It makes the threat level drop considerably, which is criminal for the authentic feel Ayer is going for. Where is the realism when an elf runs into a scene, waving a magic wand? The racism card is less debated and more kept in the writer’s back pocket to inject quick flashes of morality or emotion into proceedings. There is enough in Bright to make it worth a watch. For example, it probably works as a routine Will Smith action for fans of the actor. But there is still this nagging sense that Ayer has thrown away a much better movie. It is turning into the director’s most characteristic trait, which is worrying for any career in the film-making industry.
Final Verdict: Bright goes for moralistic grittiness, but ends up with a nonsense action thriller, that only sort-of does either job.