The Netflix original Bright, directed by David Ayer and written by Max Landis, is weirdly misplaced in society’s current development and demand. Set in today’s Los Angeles, humans are joined by Orcs, Elves, Fairies, Centaurs and quite possibly creatures that we’ll only get to see in the sequel. Can this concept actually work?
Well, it succeeds in being intriguing in the beginning. Will Smith is playing the typical beat-up, rough on the edges, sweet on the inside cop Daryl Ward. His partner Nick Jacoby (played by Joel Edgerton) happens to be an Orc. The Orc community lives a tough life filled with discrimination and oppression and no one is happy with Nick riding a police car, especially not Ward (because it’s his police car). Although this is not the most original conflict set-up, one must admit that the idea of Elves and Orcs living amongst us is definitely tempting. David Ayer has a thing for colorful compositions with street art flair and a cool song dancing over it and it works in this introduction. His love for LA shines through even if it shows destroyed neighborhoods and violence. However, as the movie progresses, it seems like music was his only vehicle to convey emotion since the camera movement and editing didn’t do much to impress.
On top of Nick being an Orc, a recent incident that involved him letting another Orc go, who shot Ward, makes him even more of a target and results in Ward not trusting him. So, these seemingly completely different guys find themselves in a magical adventure when, unwillingly, they get caught up in a net of renegade Elves and ancient wands. What actually saves this movie from failure are the actors. Will Smith is at least good in anything he does and his portrayal of the rogue cop is actually really entertaining. Joel Edgerton, although unrecognizable underneath that makeup, delivers lines with good comedic timing. Noomi Rapace (Leilah) is cutting her way through bodies without breaking a sweat and makes for a good adversary, if pretty one-dimensional, to put it nicely. Her two trusted killing machines Tien and Serafin reminded me of Victor Szaaz and his crew, killing with chilling precision.
Most of all, what impairs this movie is its message. Max Landis is one of my favorite screenwriters and I haven’t read the screenplay for Bright yet but I have a feeling it’s better than the actual movie. I felt weirdly uncomfortable when they showed Orcs being beaten up by cops because this is something that is still shockingly real in our world. Discrimination, racism, oppression, police brutality – all very real problems that people face every day. This movie masks and hides these struggles underneath fictional creatures and magical occurrences. How can I feel for an Orc when the only positive representation is one single character? The rest of the community is presented as voiceless thugs. Thus, the movie perpetuates once more the ever-pertinent, same image of disadvantaged communities. Arguably worse is the portrayal of Mexican individuals who couldn’t be more stereotypical and again, one single character (Jay Hernandez as Rodriguez) offers some relief but can’t quite pull it through to the end. If the message was to show that every race, every community can live together in peace, it failed. Especially in times where society rightfully demands more accurate, more actual representations, hiding behind makeup and still not achieving a sufficient emotional impact just seems pointless.
The premise, the set-up, the idea and introduction are fun, entertaining and refreshing. Unfortunately, the themes and message are not continuously orchestrated and, plainly, achieve nothing of importance. It hurts me to say that this movie is even more forgettable than it is offensive or reckless.