FILM REVIEW: BRIGHT

Set in a world where orcs, humans and elves all exist as one, it’s hard to believe that Bright even managed to get off the pitching table. Such is Hollywood’s necessity to avoid originality, Bright is an anomaly, or so it feels, in a sea of re-makes, unoriginal ‘originals’, and the same blockbuster fodder wheeled out every year (Fast and Furious franchise, I’m looking at you). But, thanks to calling Netflix its home (with a 90 million budget to boot), the original movie is backed, at the very least, by a service that always strives to be on the cusp of the cutting edge.
A mash of genres, themes and styles, borrowing elements of high fantasy and mixing them with smatterings of madcap thriller, buddy cop and action flick, Bright, even from its Netflix description, feels a little, well, confused. It stays that way too.

 

Yet, I should say, it isn’t a terrible movie. It’s odd, yes, and has elements that work, and a fair few that don’t, but in the well-stocked realm of terrible films, Bright isn’t quite there, despite what’s been said. Plus, it’s got Will Smith in it, so it can’t be all that bad, right?

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In the opening credits we’re given the back story to the whole orc, human and elf co-existence (fairies are involved too). Displayed via a series of graffiti art, we learn that elves are the upper class, living in a secluded and shut off part of Los Angeles (yes, it’s modern day). Humans are sort of in between, neither one nor the other, and orcs are the lower class, shunned for their way of life by pretty much everyone else. There’s a Dark Lord too, who’s intent on returning thanks to help from an evil Noomi Rapace, who plays an Inferni elf (think Illuminati), and there’s a very distinct #orcsfightback theme going on. They’re the down trodden ones, and reside in the very worst parts of the city.

But from there, we’re taken out of the high fantasy urban setting and thrown into the realm of buddy cop action adventure movie. If you’re already questioning the oddness of sticking orcs and elves in a movie that is also sort of Hot Fuzz and Lethal Weapon on some Tolkien speed, then you’d be right to think so. Keep with me though.

Will Smith is Daryl Ward, an LAPD officer, who’s partnered with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first ever Orcish police officer. They don’t get on (shock). Whilst on duty, and whilst Jakoby was buying a burrito (hmm), Ward is shot. You can smell the distrust from here. But like every buddy cop movie, the conflicting personalities are put together to work it all out. Solve the case, catch the bad guys, and become friends by the end of the run time. They might even learn something from one another.

It’s cliché, but when you consider that the bad guys practice magic, the other bad guys are part of a seedy LA gang, and the other bad guys are a group of orcs, it all becomes less cliché and more complicated. The case too, involving a Wand, a ‘Bright’ (someone who can handle magic), a few dirty cops and talk of a prophecy, is just as perplexing. And this is where Bright runs into trouble. In the rush to be original, it tries to pack far too much into one movie (even describing it felt arduous).

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It’s too much all at once, and it becomes hard to stomach at times. Whilst it may be my own personal preference, the way it’s presented, with orcs dressed as something akin to Lil Wayne circa 2009, and the elves (see mainly Edgar Ramirez’s character Kandomere), decked head to toe in what could be next seasons Louis Vuitton; it’s all a bit ridiculous. There is even a US Federal Department for fighting magic. But, found amongst its ridiculousness is also a strange sense of enjoyment.

The shootouts, ranging from the soaking streets of LA to the seedy underground ‘titty’ bars, as Smith so elegantly puts it, are well shot, most likely thanks to director David Ayer’s already well-rounded cop movie chops. With the sublime End of Watch under his belt, you’d expect great things. But then again, he was also behind Suicide Squad, and there are moments where it drifts from well composed shots to random Michael Bay explosions, and awkward directing. Even the soundtrack choices, much like Suicide Squad, make little cinematic sense.

In fact, where the film only truly excels, is where Ayer’s takes a leaf out of his own book. The scenes between Jakoby and Ward are particularly well framed, much like those in End of Watch, and deliver on all those expectations of buddy cop banter. Ward is the wise-cracking, all knowing seasoned officer, Jakoby is…well…the exact opposite. It works, and they complement each other nicely, it’s just a shame it’s not prolonged enough to make up for the rest.

At times the dialogue is clunky, the plot gets lost in itself, and I fear characters such as Leilah (Rapace) and Tikka (Fry), would be far better used had they been given more to do, more to say, and a less complicated slightly forgotten, or at least, relatively unexplained back story. Lucy Fry particularly, should have been afforded more worthwhile screen time, and it’s a shame she spends most of it being carried around by Smith or whimpering in a corner (write complex female characters please! Come on!)

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It’s not all bad mind, maybe just yet to find its feet, or perhaps territory. It’s pop culture fantasy at its height (thanks to writer Max Landis), but at times it doesn’t quite hit the mark, or come even close. It’s heavy handed, and obviously so, with its treatment of racial tension (see the orc back story), and tries to say a lot whilst saying little of any consequence. Without Smith and Egerton at the helm, it’s unlikely the film would be held together as well as it is.

The potential is there, but Ayer’s and Landis waste it when it needn’t be wasted, and lay it on too thick where it would be better served with some delicacy.

In a movie genre as rich as the ‘buddy cop’ film (think Rush Hour), and the ‘high fantasy’ drama (where else to go but Lord of the Rings), it fails to fully deliver on either. It squanders all that could have been great, and turns it into good (ish) bordering on lacklustre.

A confusing and unfocused foray into originality, Bright is an oddball. But with a sequel already on the way, there’s some hope that, the second-time round, they make up for all that is vacant in the first.

2 OUT OF 5

Review by Emily Harrison

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