If you had asked me two days ago how I felt about Bright I would have had no doubts or apprehension in my mind. Just based on the trailers, it looked like an interesting concept that felt enjoyably familiar. It reminded me of one of my favorite game universes, Shadowrun, which is a cyberpunk table-top RPG that contains elements of magic. However, when I learned that David Ayer directed it I lost a little hope as I was no fan of Suicide Squad. Then I remembered that some of that wasn’t Ayer’s fault, so I tempered my concern. Two seconds later any semblance of hope was completely gone when I learned Max Landis wrote the script. If anyone is least equipped to deal with the nuanced social issues inherent in the conceit of this film, it’s a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Other people’s takes on this film are hard to avoid in the Twittersphere and the web-at-large, but I still tried to go into this with an open mind. Even with my hope in ruins.
The world of Bright is exactly like our own, except that mythical creatures made their home here. A great war happened 2000 years ago, and the Orcs sided with the ominously named Dark Lord. That side lost, and the Orcs have been paying the price ever since, leaving them with no standing in society. On the other hand, Elves are the model minority and live in the lap of luxury, lording it over the subservient Orcs.
The story itself begins in media res where Will Smith’s character Daryl Ward is already partners with the first Orc member of the LAPD, Nick Jakoby played by Joel Edgerton. A situation of distrust is established in the opening of the film between the protagonists, as Jakoby’s presence is so unwanted that the other officers in their unit convince Ward to spy on him. They want Jakoby to confess to colluding with the Orc who shot Ward and got away. However, events take a turn and these two must rely on one another, despite their differences, when their entire unit turns their backs on them both. From here supernatural elements are introduced as a race ensues to protect a traitor Elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who has stolen a wand from an evil Elf named Leilah (Noomi Rapace) who is the leader of a sinister sect of Elves who are trying to resurrect the Dark Lord.
Just typing this plot out makes it obvious how dumb this movie is. But the plot is just one of many issues I had with this movie. Cultural references that don’t stick the landing are problematic throughout. Early on we see how much of a scumbag Ward is when he declares that “Today Fairy Lives Don’t Matter.” He then proceeds to very brutally kill a little Fairy that was just doing typical Fairy things. Considering that Will Smith is an African American actor and the Black Lives Matter movement is a hot button topic still, it feels very tone deaf for his character to utter such a line. They could have chosen to reference anything else. Another reference that made no sense was uttered by a Hispanic Sheriff who serves as an ally to our protagonist. Jakoby makes a comment about Orcs always being the bad guy and then Sheriff Rodriguez (Jay Hernandez) comments about Mexicans getting blamed for the Alamo. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life and have never heard anyone ever say that. In other words, It comes across as ignorant and “I can’t be racist because racist things happen to me too.”
Frankly, the biggest problem in this movie is its entire conceit. Bright just doesn’t work as an allegory on race relations in 2017. If these beings have been around for the last 2000 years, and presumably before that time, why would we just now be getting an Orc on the LAPD? Shouldn’t that have happened at an earlier time? I’m not saying that everything would be perfect considering that the state of the world today is far from perfect and we’ve all been living together for a millennia, but the issues would be a little more nuanced than this. You can’t just slap a bunch or Orcs and Elves in this world and expect it to work without considering the big picture. Other fundamentals of the Human world would need to be adjusted to rationalize these elements. The movie may say that Orcs and Elves have been around for a long time, but the treatment feels like they’ve only been around a few decades.
I mentioned Shadowrun and its ilk in the introduction and it bares mention again. The big reason why the race allegory works in that setting is the time constraint the game places on the rise of Meta-Humans. In their world, Orcs and Elves have only been around for 60 years. It makes sense for all the hatred to exist when humanity is still wrapping its brain around the idea of other sentient beings coexisting with humanity. In Bright it makes absolutely no sense why an Orc on the police force would be such a polarizing issue in 2017. Considering their size and other attributes, which the movie points out are perfectly fine when it comes to sports, why wouldn’t you want their strength and stamina on the streets helping to fight crime? Plus, the police force has not one, but two Centaurs on the SWAT team! Is that not a big deal too? Is that okay because half of them is human? This element doesn’t even get a mention and it feels like a lost opportunity for the type of commentary that’s being targeted by the creative forces behind the movie.
But let’s try and find a positive. Hmmm. The Orcs do look good at least. It seems that they went with some practical make-up effects instead of CGI. Individual Orcs have a similar skin tone, but their patterns aren’t identical. You can tell them apart fairly well, especially Jakoby who seems to be a bit smaller and lacks tusks. Other visual effects in this movie look pretty decent too, as if a considerable amount of the post production budget went to make this look more like a theatrical release versus one that’s made for TV, which makes sense considering this is Netflix’ most expensive feature to date.
Unfortunately, the more I sit down to think about this movie, the more I find to dislike. In my cursory search about its writer I landed on a now deleted tweet from him that stated, “I’ve slowly come to realize that Bright, my new script, if made well, could potentially be my Star Wars, and it feels crazy.” This was two years ago and this is definitely not an evergreen tweet. I’ve not read the original script, and apparently Ayer did some rewrites, but still, this shows how delusional the writer is considering his track record with other scripts. This movie doesn’t come close to the magic and majesty of even the worst Star Wars movie.
If you’re looking for favorite roleplaying game setting come to life, or even just a fun buddy cop movie with fantasy elements, you’ll not find that with Bright. If you want a better allegory on the state of race relations in current society, just re-watch Zootopia. Bright is a giant mess that thinks its message is clever but is so forced as to be laughable.
1.5 / 5