Bright had a ton of wasted potential. That was my biggest takeaway midway through this two hour Netflix original fantasy action cop film.
It seemed like it took more effort to screw up a fantasy action cop movie than it would to get right. Will Smith reunites with his Suicide Squad director David Ayer in this world of wonders where elves, orcs, fairies exist and interaction with humans. Smith plays Daryl Ward, a police officer who has the least desirable assignment on the force as the partner to diversity hire Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, It Comes at Night) — an orc.
Max Landis’ script has a thoughtful approach to class and status. Elves, orcs, fairies and even humans are used as metaphors for the real world. One of the film’s best scenes is the opening montage, which explains the social conflict. The elves are self absorbed, elitists and the orcs are the downtrodden, marginalized members of society.
You don’t have to look too close to guess the analogies in the real world and that’s long before Ward utters the cringe-worthy line fairy’s lives don’t matter. Considering there’s no black women in the film besides strippers, Ward’s white wife seemed unnecessary. It’s not like interracial relationships would be edgy in a world with elves.
Ward already didn’t like the idea of being partnered with Jakoby, but an incident where Ward got shot further tests their tenuous partnership. Jakoby isn’t oblivious to the scorn and derision within the department, but is fulfilling a lifelong dream of being an officer.
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Landis seemed to borrow several cues from the 1988 film Alien Nation with featured an alien and human teaming as cops. Alien Nation wasn’t a great movie, but it much more effectively handled the partner dynamic. Bright starts to stumble when Landis introduces another element of a dangerous elf trio led by Leilah (Noomi Rapace, Dead Man Down) killing everyone in her way to reclaim her magic wand. As the name implies, the magic wand can make anything a reality, but it requires elves or especially gifted humans to wield it.
Tikka (Lucy Fry), a renegade elf, runs off with the wand to keep it away from Leilah. The film never explains what Leilah would do with the wand beyond summon some Dark Lord. But it’s not like the elves’ position in life is all that bad. It seems like Landis missed the more obvious play of having an orc covet the wand to change their social standing.
One of Bright’s biggest problems is no one seems to understand the tone. Ayer sets up another of his tense action dramas, but the humor keeps clashing with what he’s establishing. Bright feels like watching Blade, Rush Hour and Underworld in the same movie. It just never gels.
Smith seems happy to fall back to his default action hero shtick. There’s several moments that seem better suited for Bad Boys 3 than this magical fantasy action world. Besides, few of his recent choices have merited delaying the third installment of his collaboration with Martin Lawrence. Edgerton tries to do something with Jakoby, but his character is the most inconsistently written of the film. When Bright works best, Ward and Jakoby are just trying to survive the night.
Edgar Ramirez is largely wasted as an elf federal agent Kandomere. It’s Kandomere’s icy and dismissive take on the common world that suggests Bright had so many more interesting directions to go. Kandomere’s random scenes suggest Bright wasn’t following the most intriguing character.
The action sequences are solid. Ayer knows how to do cop shootouts in his sleep and there’s no letdown on that front. Not surprisingly, Ayer’s best work comes when Ward and Jakoby are on the run from the various factions gunning from the wand. Too often they get hampered by forced comedy that doesn’t fit the moment.
At two hours, Bright is about a half hour longer than necessary and give the film a greater sense of urgency. Too often, the pacing feels more laid back than should be the case given the keep away structure.
Of all the original Netflix films for 2017, Bright has been the most hyped by far. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not original or fun enough to warrant the time commitment considering far better options just as readily available.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix