Written By Malik G.
Netflix’s first original blockbuster film “Bright” starring Will Smith is a missed opportunity. Despite this statement, the film does possess the makings of a compelling fantasy cop story thanks to an interesting premise that touches on some relevant subject matter. However, Bright’s one-note script and lack of depth prevents it from the reaching the heights that it set out to reach.
In a nutshell, Bright can be described as “End of Watch” meets “World of Warcraft”. Will Smith stars as Darryl Ward; an LAPD officer forced to patrol the streets with the first-ever Orc cop played by Joel Edgerton. In this film’s universe (which is very similar to our own) humans, elves, and orcs cohabitate, with the latter race strongly disliked and discriminated against by the other two. While this makes for an intriguing concept, unfortunately, its execution is far too on the nose.
It’s clear that the movie is attempting to address the racial tension, social injustice, and police brutality that plague our modern society but there isn’t an ounce of subtlety in the way it’s integrated into the overall story. Even if this was an intentional move by the filmmakers, it still feels like a missed opportunity to delve deeper into the history and lore of Bright.
Through some in-your-face exposition, we’re told of an ancient war that is never expounded upon. Due to a lack of context, we never get an idea of why these characters hate orcs as much as they do. Its failure to flesh out its story causes Bright to come off as just another cop movie, even with all of its fantastical elements.
In the spirit of movies like Training Day (another film worked on by Bright’s director David Ayer) the film follows Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as a regular day on the job goes horribly wrong and they are forced to contend with dirty cops, gangsters, elves, and orcs after they come across a mysterious girl and a magic wand. Sound crazy to you? Well, it is but the movie actually does a competent job at making it all feel believable.
The problem lies, however, in its script. Despite all of the magic and killer elves, this is still a by-the-book buddy-cop action movie. The story is as simple: our heroes find a McGuffin, the bad guys want it, and they have to protect it. If you’re looking for nuance, deep lore, cool plot twists, or character development then you’re in the wrong place. Even with the always-charismatic Will Smith taking the lead, there isn’t much here to make you care about his character and that goes double for everyone else. Every character in this movie is there to simply push the narrative forward, being offered little to no real development.
The interactions we are treated to go on for too long with none of them being all that interesting. The script is filled with conversations that go nowhere and humor that rarely, if ever, lands. Characters are killed off and it’s hard to care because we just didn’t know them well enough. The movie explicitly tells us who’s good and bad without getting into their heads as to why they’re that way. Bright’s script also doesn’t give the actors much to work with for the exception of an unnecessary amount of vulgar dialogue that comes off as forced and awkward.
The same goes for the film’s villains – a group of badass elves, whose names I can’t remember. They do some really cool shit and come across as intimidating but they’re all one dimensional, barely speaking or interacting with our protagonists.
Once again, there was an opportunity to utilize the film’s history and lore to flesh out each character’s motivations as well integrate them with the contemporary themes that the movie attempts to address. It’s most likely due to the runtime but Bright feels like it never truly establishes itself or gives the story a chance to stretch its legs. I understand and sympathize with this issue but it still hurts the film nevertheless.
In the spirit of trying not to be too negative, Bright is still somewhat of an enjoyable movie. Throughout the film’s 2-hour runtime, I was rarely bored, with some of its ideas and action sequences keeping me engaged throughout. Like I said, this movie dabbles into some relevant social commentary. During Bright’s first act, Will Smith’s character appears to be torn between his loyalty to a band of crooked cops and his partner – something that could’ve carried the entire movie had they allowed it to play out longer.
Director David Ayer does an excellent job of portraying Bright with a stark sense of grit and realism. Even though I wasn’t particularly fond of the script, there are some emotional beats thanks to the performances of our lead actors. Everyone is clearly doing the best they can and, from the looks of it, appear to be having fun as well.
Bright made was on a budget of 98 million dollars and it looks like every penny was well spent. The film does a good job of not overindulging on special effects, adding to its sense of realism. Most of the film takes place at night, which was obviously done to hide the shortcomings of its effects budget. It’s a shame as the scenes during the day look gorgeous, capturing the hazy and sundried atmosphere of Los Angeles. In a lot of ways, Bright feels like world’s most expensive short film in terms of its scope compared to its limitations.
When I first saw the trailers for Bright, I thought it was a silly idea that only had a small chance of success. I’m disappointed to report that I wasn’t entirely wrong but the film could’ve been a lot worse than it turned out to be. However, it could’ve also been something special. Bright’s decision to blend fantasy and cop elements, while addressing social issues was a risky venture but one that had the potential to leave a mark with the right execution.
Bright is a paint-by-numbers action film that doesn’t do much outside of its interesting concept to add it to the pantheon of compelling cop movies that include the likes of Lethal Weapon, Training Day, and The Nice Guys. The movie is not terrible by any stretch of the imagination but it is filled with missed opportunities. If you’ve already got a Netflix account and have two hours to kill, give Bright a watch. For everyone else, there’s probably something else on the Syfy channel that can provide you with the same fix. Maybe next time Netflix.
The Good: Will Smith and Joel Edgerton’s performances, Direction & Cinematography, Interesting Premise
The Bad: Poor Character Development, Been-There-Done-That Script, Failure to Establish and Delve into Lore