Bright is a remarkable movie. It’s not every day a film that manages to set a police thriller with orcs, fairies, dragons, and elves is completely and thoroughly disappointing—boring, really. It manages some intrigue with the world it builds, but it misses every single mark regarding drama, action, comedy, and, most notably, social commentary.
Coming hot out of Netflix’s now prodigious hands, Bright was supposed to be the network’s first major blockbuster as it also seemed to be their first majorly calculated perfect storm. Will Smith, for instance, in the star role brings his experience in off-kilter police action from Men in Black and emotional precision from Pursuit of Happyness. And director David Ayer would revive his Training Day and End of Watch chops while writer Max Landis would flex his Chronicle muscle.
Unfortunately, they created the wrong kind of storm. Smith, apparently, became self-aware of his predicament halfway through filming and began the classic skit comedy maneuver of checking the fuck out, never being the magnetic, resonant actor we know he can be. Ayer brings out all the worst mistakes of his latest and biggest misstep Suicide Squad in failing to build stakes rather than laying them out like drying potpourri and Landis, well, let’s be honest—he’s never been a nuanced writer.
Enter the premise: in an alternate, low-fantasy reality, humanity has enjoyed a multiple millennia-long modernization into the world we know today but with way more mythical creatures. This is actually one of the few strengths of the film. The abrasive way in which we are dropped into this setting is perfectly unceremonious, giving us a lot more to wonder about and chew on than if it were all spoon-fed to us.
The problem is that this setting is trying to do too much. Smith plays Daryl Ward, an LAPD beat cop who is returning to the job after recovering from being shot on the job. He and the world at large blames his orkish partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) because much of the planet basically holds orcs as the historical Nazi equivalent, supporting a Dark Lord of yore that was defeated in an epic battle against the remaining united races.
(They are, if you couldn’t tell from the trailers, stand-ins for the black community of today, and yes, it’s problematic that at no point did anyone involved ask if it’s messed up to say an abused and marginalized population is to blame for being abused and marginalized.)
If you think this is ripe for social commentary, then congratulations: you nailed it. What you may not have guessed, however, is how triumphantly tone-deaf the entire thing is. From the opening production company splashes that include the challenging combination of words “Trigger Warning Entertainment” to Smith yelling into the camera “FAIRY LIVES DON’T MATTER,” it’s an affront to pretty much every sensibility.
Mercifully, it abandons this endeavour rather quickly, even if it continues to indulge in caricatured factions and races. The actionable, moment-to-moment story begins to take hold, and the movie shapes up into something more agreeable. There are, you see, people in the world called Brights. They possess the unique ability to use magic, but to use magic, you have to have a magic wand, which is such a rarity that many believe them to be fictional.
But those that believe also believe that magic can fix everything. The corrupt cops at the LAPD, for instance, would like to retire and want for nothing ever again. A local gang leader would fix his legs and walk again. It’s a completely fascinating and engrossing variation of the otherwise uniform framework of prestidigitation, which is to say Harry Potter-style magic. It’s easy, breezy, and free from consequence.
Just about zero percent of it, however, pays off. (Aside from the fantastic visualization of magic literally dripping off the wands.) The movie opens with an in-world prophetic quote that ruins what would have otherwise been a great reveal, but the movie also fails to reveal another prophecy that would have set up a huge turn in the third act. And then it continues to hammer on the same handful of points until you feel like you’re in the middle of a third first act. And the elves? Forget about it.
Actually, don’t forget about it just yet. It’s befuddling why any of them are even there. There’s one young elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who possesses the wand of the villainous dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace), a leader of the Inferni group dedicated to resurrecting the Dark Lord. Tikka ends up through various ways and means in the company of Ward and Jakoby and everyone—the local gangs, some corrupt officers, the government’s magic division, Leilah and her cronies—begins to chase them.
Despite their close proximity for much of the movie, it often feels like they encounter each other out of sheer page-filling need. Rack ’em up and knock ’em down. It all steadily marches forward like a metronome, swiping away one page after another of the screenplay with each tick and each tock. And this zombie-like ambulation would at least be forgivable if the action was at least exciting, but it’s not.
On the level of foundational construction, it’s at least digestible, which is more than a lot of filmmakers can say about their set piece sequences. But it is also staggeringly static and uninteresting. Nothing moves with particular emphasis. Even when the elves begin to flip and kick and ninja their way through body after body, the action is stale. (It also suffers from a lack of consistency, skill levels wildly vacillating as the scene dictates.)
Few things are as cringeworthy as something that wants to be funny and isn’t, but Bright manages it. It’s laughless when it wants laughs, it’s dull when it wants you on the edge of your seat, and it’s superficial when it wants to be insightful—cutting. It’s not quite as bad as you’d probably think, but being inoffensively boring is a sin all its own.
Final Score: 4 out of 10