Netflix continues its plans for world domination, this time diving into blockbuster territory with their biggest movie yet. Bright was a hotly sought after script by Max Landis and was able to attach Suicide Squad director David Ayer in the bidding war that brought the film to Netflix, attaching Will Smith and Joel Edgerton to star. Bright draws on fantasy mythology and places it into a world resembling modern day Los Angeles. In a way, Bright is just Alien Nation with Orcs. There is room for an interesting blend of gritty action and outlandish fantasy but it’s muddled in the misguided and tone deaf racial allegory that makes up the heart of Bright. Since Netflix is reliant on a subscription model, critical appraisals and box office returns have no effect on whether or not Bright is deemed a success, meaning that even though the movie is quite awful the streaming behemoth is already moving forward with a sequel.
On the streets of Los Angeles, Officer Daryl Ward (Smith) is partnered with Nick Jakoby (Edgerton), the first Orc to serve in the LAPD. While Jakoby is getting a burrito on the street, Ward is shot by an Orc with a shotgun. Months later, Ward is finally returning to duty with his Orc partner, though the veteran cop is suspicious of his Orc partner who is an outcast within the department. There are calls for Jakoby to be fired, but diversity protocols within the department hinder any attempts to purge the lone Orc from the police force. Early on, it’s apparent that the racial allegory of Bright has all the nuance and thought of a pile of bricks.
The mythology of Bright is half-baked and takes us to a number of moments of unrealized potential that is merely teased and rarely comes to fruition. The Orcs are an underclass in this version of Los Angeles, and they’re a tight-knit community that doesn’t trust the brutal police force and is especially harsh on the lone Orc in uniform. We’re briefly given a glimpse into the Beverly Hills of this Los Angeles, a posh mecca of capitalism which populated by Elves – the fact that little else about the Elves is presented makes one assume that they’re some kind of crude stand in for the Jewish population. Despite the fact Bright creates new minorities to populate the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Ayer and Landis still lean heavily on racial stereotypes for the human characters of Bright. The Mexican characters we see are chollo gangsters. The black characters we see that aren’t Will Smith are lazy gang members barbequing in their front yard or patrons at a strip club. The attempts at racial allegory are bad enough, but there’s a condescending nature to the way the film approaches neighborhoods that creative team has never dared venture into.
Ward and Jakoby are called to a disturbance at an apartment building where they discover a magic wand, which can only be handled by a select few individuals known as Brights, and a young Elf woman Tikka (Lucy Fry). Everyone wants their hands on this magic wand, including the police, Mexican gangsters, and a secret cabal of Elves led by Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who wants to use the wand to bring back “The Dark One.” Who is this dark one, you might ask. It’s not entirely clear, but this “Dark One” coerced the Orcs into making a bad deal thousands of years in the past. Elsewhere, there are federal agents in the FBI’s magic division, Kandomere (Édgar Ramírez) and Montehugh (Happy Anderson), who are nothing characters that serve no purpose in the overall story but repeatedly appear nonetheless. Each and every character is in search of this wand as a means to make their dreams come true but the film isn’t interested in establishing the mythology of the Brights so it makes you wonder just why a Mexican gang leader wants the wand to restore the use of his legs if he can’t handle it personally. How does this situation work? Bright could care less with those details.
Bright uses fantasy mythology for its foundation but once the MacGuffin of the magic wand is introduced the film devolves into a simple action flick with standard story beats and a number of shootouts devoid of suspense or visceral thrills. Ward and Jakoby are on the run with Tikka in tow, avoiding a myriad of bad guys who want to shoot them up. The way these situations unfold leave no surprises for the viewer. When Bright gets towards its conclusion with a couple of reveals and twists, they all land with a deadening thud because they’ve been so gracelessly teased earlier that the occurrences are foregone conclusions. For a film that’s about fantastical elements, Bright is a movie sure lacking in imagination.
Will Smith does what Will Smith does in these types of movies. He cracks wise every once and a while and is able to exude some of his natural charms in the service of an underwhelming piece of shlock. However, the real standout of Bright is Joel Edgerton, who delivers are particularly strong performance under layers of prosthetic makeup. In a movie teeming with character issues, Edgerton brings a toughness as well as a vulnerability to Jakoby as he’s an Orc trapped between two worlds that don’t want him. Tragically, the rest of the cast of Bright doesn’t get the opportunity to fare so well. Noomi Rapace is woefully underutilized as the film’s villain, a villain so bland that it’s difficult to remember her name or any characteristics. The same is true of the fugitive Elf, Tikka, whose defining characteristics seem to be blonde hair and pale skin.
I truly believe that Bright should be a pivotal moment for Netflix going forward. If the streaming giant wants to make its mark on the movie landscape with large productions, it can’t throw money at a high concept, low execution script and simply hope people will care because of the movie stars. Netflix is still struggling to have an impact with its movies in the same way its television shows have changed the medium. Bright is a flat, generic action film lacking in suspense with a racial allegory that is as off the mark as one can get. This is a movie featuring elements you’ve seen before in countless other better movies, just with a slightly different dressing. If Netflix wants a blockbuster that’s going to leave a culture impact beyond being a bland oddity with limited appeal, they’re going to have to put their mighty backing behind something with a little more brains than the dim Bright.
A muddled mess of action cliches unrealized mythology, Bright squanders an interesting performance by Joel Edgerton in Netflix’s first underwhelming attempts at an original blockbuster.