How are movies still taking away the wrong elements of Christopher Nolan’s gritty take on the caped crusader in The Dark Knight? Similar to how Ayer seemed to endlessly attempt to turn Suicide Squad into anything other than a comic book movie, Bright is so busy trying to escape the idea of being some filthy fantasy movie that kids might enjoy that it lands in this nebulous garbage can of tropes and cliches that are too immature and sophomoric for adults, but full of too many tits and f-bombs for children.
There’s nothing less interesting than having to watch something that feels like it’s being made begrudgingly, and that is what Bright becomes – a chore. It’s never bad in a typical sense, it just moves along at a pace that slowly kills any and all hope you have inside yourself that they plan on doing anything fun or original with the different pieces introduced and carelessly dropped.
In Bright, Will Smith plays Daryl Ward (what a forgettable name), a cop who is the only one of the force stuck with an Orc for a partner. One he blames for allowing some no good Orc thug to shoot him at point blank range with a shotgun (don’t worry, it’s the first of about 50 things that are introduced and then dropped forever in this movie). After a vague length of recovery time, the story takes place more or less on his first day back on the beat, back with his Orc partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, appearing to be the only person who wants to be in this movie) who has more dimension than all of the paper thin mustache twirling human characters – Ayer goes so far as to give practically everyone an actual mustache.
Everyone on the police force seems to hate Orcs for one reason or another, I guess. They mostly just curse a lot and make Will Smith’s character stand up for his partner in sorta passive ways while at the same time also being a bit of an Orcist (?) himself. When Internal Affairs tries getting him to flip his partner and kick that gross Orc out of the force, Smith’s character finds his ethics too strong. Apparently. Anyway, that doesn’t matter much like most of the things that happen in Bright because not soon after that the two of them make the mistake of finding some type of terrorist flop den that is also being used as some type of safe house for an Elf who has a wand. Oh, wands are important in this movie, some crazy hobo looking guy waving a sword around while shirtless in the middle of an intersection tells us that some Elves are trying to bring The Dark Lord back with wands (Again, don’t expect to find out anything about this Dark Lord guy, the film is basically a black hole for plot). I guess they needed three wands to do that? But the movie only seems to focus on one, so they’re probably trying to set that up for a sequel or something. This movie makes zero sense, because then a whole bunch of latino gangbangers show up with their wheelchair bound leader as the only one who gets to talk, leaving the twenty or so other guys just stand there awkwardly trying to appear menacing. They want the wand too, it’s kind of like a genie lamp, only you have high odds of exploding when you touch it. We get a really lazy car chase scene that is mostly comprised of close ups on Will Smith? Noomi Rapace shows up as some evil witch elf at some point, but it doesn’t matter, because by that point everyone stopped caring.
This movie has a dragon just flying around the city of Los Angeles with nobody on screen ever dropping the D word. Centaur cop holding back a crowd? Sure why not, just don’t expect that to ever come up again. All of these bits of world building established in the first half hour are for nothing. Bright just keeps introducing new things for you to look at with no plans of finding a way for them all to coalesce into the larger story. It’s lazy and infuriating, because the stories happening off screen in this world all sound a lot more interesting than the one filled with boring gun fights we’re forced to sit through.
The racism element the story leans so heavily into makes no sense. Every time a human character opens their mouth all it’s filled with are slurs against everything having to do with magic. That’s all they talk about outside of when some throwaway character is serving as the writer’s exposition dump. Every single human character in this film is a racist asshole who really hate Orcs, apparently for some slight that happened 2000 years ago, but the feature is too busy having Ike Barinholtz play the same douchebag character he played in Ayer’s last movie to bother telling us about things that might matter in a bigger picture sense.
Past all of that, the film never seems to address why these magical creatures suddenly alleviate and fix all of the racism between whites, blacks, and latinos in L.A. But human gangs still seem to have a “fuck the police” attitude, all of which begin and end with Ayer’s typical cholo hood types that just feel uncomfortable to watch at this point. Is that all David Ayer knows? Because as someone who is Irish/Polish, even I’m getting offended by the way he handles these characters. The one respectable Hispanic character, a stand up cop with a newborn on the way, gets gunned down after fewer lines of dialogue than I have fingers to count on.
When your fantasy buddy cop movie only hits about a 40-50% success rate with its scenes between the two leads, there are questions that need to be asked about this entire production. How did anybody at Netflix think it would be a good investment to throw somewhere between 90 and 120 million dollars down the drain on low rent Zach Snyder slow motion shots that look like they were made using Premiere Pro and YouTube tutorial videos instead of well coordinated stunt sequences.
At first it was nice seeing Noomi Rapace embraces and relishes in her villain role, with the actress using her signature facial expressions to legitimately steal the film on introduction. Sadly what we come to find out is that Ayer plans on doing nothing with the character outside of treating her and her two lacky characters as Terminator-esque forces to simple move the plot forward. We never find out why she wants to bring the Dark Lord back (shocker), especially when you consider that the elves are this world’s 1%. Why disrupt that order?
The visual effects might have been impressive on a series scale, or perhaps if this dreck came out a decade ago. Nothing on display over this excessively long endeavor plays as new or original. If you were to go in and edit out the cliches and predictably corny dialogue, you might end up with something close to the 80 minutes Bright should have been. Instead we have to sit through two hours of David Ayer incapable of getting out of his own way, heavily pulling from the same bag of tricks he’s been milking since Training Day. Speaking of Training Day, Bright is more than just “End of Watch meets J.R.R. Tolkein” Ayer basically rips the entire narrative structure of the Denzel Washington and Eathan Hawk drama and haphazardly throws in some Orcs wearing football jerseys and gold chains to make it look new. All notions of subtlety are thrown out the window.
The entire genre element is just surface fodder. There’s no attempt at designing an alternate history that could have spawned something even remotely interesting. Everything is as it would be just now there are Orcs, Elves, and other fantasy creatures filling out the visuals of the world. Take District 9 as an example of world building done right, where the textures of communication are forced to evolve between the bureaucrats and the prawns. Wikus is forced to traverse the entire second half of the film in ways that are impacted by how Blomkamp designs a new landscape that also establishes new rules for the world. It feels lived in, similar to how Children of Men has an entire narrative evolving in the background of practically every shot that directly relates to the narrative plight of it’s lead character, Even this years Blade Runner sequel preserves and expands on new ideas of the Ridley Scott original. Bright has nothing new to say for two painful, ceaseless hours.
The first act hits viewers over the head with some of the most overt writing on the subject of race-baiting you’ll hear all year, the second is one aimless chase sequence after another with not a single unique visual in the bunch, and it all resolves in a predictable third act that finally relents on holding the audience hostage and fizzles away in such that almost feels like a middle finger aimed at anyone who was stupid enough to have high hopes on watching something fun. I can’t for the life of me understand why this story holds so much contempt for the audience.
A lot of people are throwing the Alien Nation comparison around, and for good reason as the overlap is blatantly here. That’s fine by me, the 80’s scifi cop feature and it’s subsequent television series were favorites of mine as a kid growing up and I’ve been wondering how long it would take to see a reboot of the concept. Much like the James Caan film, Bright is a bit of a mess that could have been a pretty solid hour long pilot that would have kept my interest to possibly binge a few more episodes to see what the world had to offer. Which is what Netflix is becoming known for doing better than most of their competition. People pay for Netflix to see shows like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Grace & Frankie, and new episodes of Black Mirror. Their output of original features have been wildly all over the place when it comes to quality, where for every Okja or Beasts of No Nation we get saddled with fifteen new Adam Sandler comedies.
I’m not sure how to scale Bright in terms of recommendations outside of “is this worth getting Netflix to see?” It isn’t. However most of you reading this probably have an account, and have had to deal with Netflix suggesting you check the movie out based on your viewing habits over the past week or two the same way they shove all of their original content down customers throats nowadays (I’m looking at you, Adam Sandler movies). It’s going to be hard not to eventually click the play button and give this one a shot, and some of you out there will certainly find more to enjoy out of this one than I was able to, at the end of the day my only recommendation would be this: Watch Okja again instead.
Tags: Bright, David Ayer, Joel Edgerton, Max Landis, Netflix, Noomi Rapace, Reviews, Will Smith