If you can figure out what the heck is happening in Netflix’s insane original film, Bright, please help me out, because I have no idea (and I kind of don’t mind). Bright is an alternate-reality, buddy-cop, fantasy film — for lack of a better or more coherent definition — that asks the question: if Middle Earth was real, what would it look like in 2017? That’s a helluva premise, right? It’s (mostly) worth your time, too.
Director David Ayer (Fury, Suicide Squad) and writer Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) have created something truly bizarre: a wonderfully fleshed-out world of orcs, elves, and humans set in modern-day Los Angeles with a focus on cops, social classes, and racism — an allegory of today’s urban, inner-city existence. Add to this some really intense performances by stars Will Smith and Joel Edgerton — who’s completely unrecognizable in heavy orc makeup. Shame that the core story is a giant, sprawling mess (and yet, that’s also a big part of it’s charm).
If it sounds like I’m uncertain whether to praise or trash Bright, you’d be correct; this is really challenging film to process and explain. Bright is fun, stylish, and polished, but it too often strays into confusing and off-putting territory. We’re dropped into a world of orcs, elves, and humans that have apparently co-existed for eons, etching deep resentment and hatred between the races. Elves are the rich elitists, looking down upon lesser orcs and humans; orcs are dim and brutish, but crave respect from elves and humans (and they’re willing to kill for it); humans are caught in the middle, aspiring to be elvish yet coveting orcish strength and unity. Centaurs, dragons, and fairies also exist at the periphery, rounding out this weird, wild setting.
Let’s get to the story, shall we, and all its warts. The LAPD has hired its first orc cop, Jakoby (Edgerton), and no one’s happy about it. Ward (Smith) draws Jakoby as a partner, and promptly gets shot in the line of duty. Everyone blames Jakoby, and his entire precinct can’t wait to throw him under the bus. Ward returns to duty and the only cop that will ride with him is Jakoby — getting shot is bad luck, and these cops are a superstitious bunch, which is understandable given dragons, et al.
Ward and Jakoby stumble into a conspiracy to recover a powerful magic wand — described as “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.” Apparently, the only beings who can wield a magic wand are called “Brights,” and there are damned few of them (a wand will literally obliterate non-Brights). Ward and Jakoby encounter a injured elf, Tikka (Lucy Fry), a Bright who seeks to hide the wand from her evil former ally, Leilah (Noomi Rapace). Naturally, when word gets out about the existence of the wand, everyone from Ward’s fellow cops to common street gangs, to orcish crime syndicates wants control. Things get decidely more obscure from this point. Honestly, the story is dumb, and Ayer knows it, so he leans hard into action and comedy, which strangely works.
Bright is a madman’s blend of sub-genres, and damned if it isn’t weird enough to be engaging. Ward and Jakoby find themselves in a running gunfight for the latter half of the film, seemingly pursued by the entire city and county of Los Angeles. The success of this film is found in the dynamic between Ward and Jakoby, who share a relationship that’s earned and believable — I wanted to spend more time with these two. I also want to know more about this world, the politics and social conflicts between orcs-elves-humans — there’s a lot of rich storytelling potential here to be explored.
Sadly, most critics are hammering Bright for its many faults, but I enjoyed the movie despite its failings. Some outlets, like Forbes, are more positive, embracing the film’s array of oddities. Apparently, Netflix is sold too, as they’ve already ordered a sequel, according to Bloomberg. Bright is not a subtle film, but it’s fun and funny and really different. If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, what do you have to lose?
Bright is now streaming on Netflix.