Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
The Dark Lord is in Another Castle
On Netflix today is Bright, the most expensive Netflix original film to date with a $90 million budget and a fantasy action crime film written by Max Landis (American Ultra, Victor Frankenstein) and directed by David Ayer (Suicide Squad, End of Watch) with the potential to become a massive franchise (the sequel was greenlit before the film’s debut on the streaming service on December 22nd).
Will Smith stars as Daryl Ward, a battle-scarred Los Angeles police officer who plans on retiring in the next five years. Ward finds himself grudgingly partnered with an orc named Nick Jakoby (the unrecognizable Joel Edgerton). Ward has just returned to work after being shot on the job while Jakoby is hated and mocked for being an outcast on the police force and a disgrace to his own kind. In an alternate present where humans attempt to coexist with orcs, fairies, and elves, a typical night on the job evolves into Ward and Jakoby being hunted by their own police force, the magic FBI, and dark elves who are determined to summon a greater evil known as The Dark Lord. Magic exists in this world and anyone who is capable of holding or possessing a wand is considered a Bright, but the potential of what a wand can do in present day Los Angeles ignites blood splattered warfare that is blind to all races.
After the poorly received yet financially successful release of David Ayer’s venture into the comic book universe with Suicide Squad, Bright seems like a return to his roots despite its fantastical elements. With exception to Fury, Ayer seems to be at his strongest when his films revolve around a partner dynamic a la Harsh Times, End of Watch, and Training Day (which Ayer wrote but didn’t direct). The ongoing conflict between Ward and Jakoby along with the chemistry between Will Smith and Joel Edgerton is what really sells the film; the constant ribbing of one another along with the relationship that develops between two individuals that initially hate each other make what could have been a lame concept more bearable and even entertaining at times.
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The film tackles racism and diversity along with corruption and underhanded tactics by individuals who are supposed to be the good guys. A war occurred a couple thousand years ago and orcs picked the wrong side of the battle. They’ve been referred to as pig-faced criminals ever since, but one orc had the opportunity to be on the police force after he shaved down his tusks and when he wasn’t “blooded” along with his own kind. The film is basically a what-if situation of J. R. R. Tolkien getting a hold of the rights to Alien Nation and making a film franchise out of it.
Early on, Bright introduces concepts that sound really stupid when they’re said out loud and even seem forced and more than a little ludicrous as they’re introduced but somehow the film is able to make it all work. There’s a clunkiness to Bright; this awkward and misshapen quality that is corny and hard to swallow but something about crime being intertwined with fantasy and prejudice works really well in today’s day and age. Accepting someone based on their actions rather than their appearance or preconceived notions on their culture is a lesson that will always be timeless and relevant.
Bright is like this blundering mishmash of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and End of Watch which is incredibly promising on one-hand, but its cheesy flaws are apparent for all of the same reasons that make it appealing. It should be terrible with its crummy dialogue, weak story structure, and clumsy choreography, but it almost seems like Bright is accidentally decent for all of the wrong reasons. The magic introduces this unpredictable element that could take the film into unexplored territory, but the crime perspective that forces the audience into the shoes of unwanted cops attempting to the best they can in a broken world keeps the film tightly wrapped in familiar territory. The action is unexpectedly gory at times with people being blown to smithereens and explosive gunfights and mass destruction that John McClane would approve of.
Netflix’s latest venture into fantastical urban crime isn’t going to sit well with everybody. It seems as though Max Landis is a huge fan of End of Watch and World of Warcraft and decided to write a screenplay specifically for David Ayer to direct. Its banal humor and trite concepts go overboard and miss the mark way more often than they land, but the film is more enjoyable than it should be and is at least less of a mess than Suicide Squad. There are definitely worse things to stream on Netflix on a Friday night than David Ayer’s obvious sequel bait known as Bright, which can at least boast about some halfway decent action sequences and will likely have you exclaiming, “Let’s titty bar gunfight die!” well into the new year.
© 2017 Chris Sawin