Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: Max Landis
Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Édgar Ramírez, Ike Barinholtz
Runtime: 117 Minutes
In cases in which an original idea or property has fallen short of expectation, there is the temptation to forgive many of its shortcomings in favour of championing and protecting the blossoming ‘new’ coming out of a project that might otherwise face derision or a lack of supportive feedback from audiences and other film journals. But sometimes, those shortcomings can be so large, distracting and dumbfound in ineptitude that you just can’t fathom a positive response strong enough to back it up.
Bright is such a case; a modern urban fantasy action crime film that’s supposedly streaming service Netflix’s first major step into blockbuster territory. If the genre’s sound a little eclectic as a purportedly high-concept sell courtesy of original screenwriter Max Landis, then the movie is more or less on the same page as it has no idea how to coalesce any of the disparate elements of its world construction or even the plot that it's following.
Thought the pitch in itself is an interesting one – what if fantasy creatures of borrowed lore and origin existed in a contemporary urban society such as Los Angeles – that’s sadly where most of the concept ends. Lip service is paid to some minor world-building exercises as it sets up the hierarchy of the new societal ladder (Elves are the 1%, Orcs the marginalised underclass), and the preliminary drama of a human LAPD officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) being teamed up in a diversity program with Orc rookie officer Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) could lend itself to commentary. If only the film wasn’t so absolutely inept at balancing or even making cognisant sense of its occasionally racially charged themes.
All of this nonsense world building is more warranting of discussion and debate than the actual plot of the film, as soon as the plot starts all of its supposed commentary or any other details regarding how this world of mythological creatures and baggage are supposed to work are forgotten about. Focusing instead on a prolonged chase, topped off with an exhausting destiny narrative, where Ward and Jakoby take it upon themselves to protect a young elf girl (Lucy Fry) in possession of a Magic Wand – and the sheer amount of times characters solemnly deliver the words “Magic Wand” with portentously grave overtones it’s unintentionally hilarious.
The film is also just so self-serious and falls into cycles of a buddy cop dynamic where the banter and comedy land flat each and every time, neither of which are compelling characters regardless of how much they talk about the consequences of their actions or the dark murky reality of their world that isn’t a fairytale (get it?!). Smith has had a really bad run of films the last decade (seriously), but this is the worst and most disinterested he’s ever been with a total lack of any of his hypothetically charismatic demeanour. Edgerton gets off better and the makeup job is decent, but his character feels half-formed and tiresome even if he is the only presence in the film that doesn’t submit to the narcissistic tone of it all.
David Ayer’s direction is appallingly ineffective, this might actually be worse than his work on Suicide Squad. The stock action sequences are few and far between and visually uninteresting, you’d think in a world of fantasy creatures there would be more to do than just gunfights. The whole thing looks sleazy and underlit; even if that is his main aesthetic point of reference it just leans into the nasty and characterless flavour of the mood and narrative elements. It’s as toxic and uber-masculine as any of his films but feels all the worse when there isn’t a single role for a proactive female presence of genuine note, and when there is they barely speak. Noomi Rapace is completely wasted as the antagonist and barely says a world that isn’t in a mumbled make-believe language.
Bright stops and starts with a dull plot, unengaging characters, a broken structure and a maligned and ill-advised premise and world. Writer Max Landis might have disowned the project shortly after it entered Ayer’s hands, but his non-committal fingerprints are all over this and it smells rank with half effort and unrealised potential.