I can’t think of a premise that has gotten me more interested in a potential film franchise than the premise for “Bright.” What would our world be like today if “Lord of the Rings” was a historical record and not a fantasy novel? How would Orcs and Elves fit in to modern society and what would our class and racial structures be like with even more varied groups of people? “Bright” opens up this world of potential, but does it deliver on the promise?
In “Bright” Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) returns to active duty after getting shot on the job. While his fellow officers are thrilled to see him back, Ward is a bit apprehensive as he’s forced to re-team with his old partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). Ward has a few problems with his old partner. For one, he feels like Nick’s incompetence is what led to him getting shot. He also blames Nick for letting the suspect get away. On top of all that, Nick is an Orc and the first of his kind to join the Los Angeles Police Department. As a result, the two have a giant target on their back. Ward is under pressure from his superiors to find any good reason to get Nick fired and his fellow cops question his loyalty to the department by working with Nick. Meanwhile, Nick is ostracized by his own people and labeled a traitor for working with humans. However, that target gets even bigger when the two cops stumble upon a powerful magic artifact in the shape of wand that can grant any wish you desire. Now they’re being hunted by ancient evils, gangs, and crooked cops as they try to survive the night.
If you’re familiar with director David Ayers previous films then you might be wondering if this is more “Suicide Squad” David Ayer or “End of Watch” David Ayer. I’m relieved to say this is definitely more “End of Watch” Ayer. This is a gritty more straightforward film about gang culture and the questionable lives of police officers. However, the whole dynamic is thrown into a blender and seamlessly mixed up with fantasy elements. A lot of the things I had issues with in “Suicide Squad” are nearly non-existent here. The jittery edits that plagued SS are gone and “Bright” doesn’t feel like it prioritized style over substance like SS did. However, “Bright” still has its share of issues.
“Bright” features the standard “survive the night” plot where the characters are being hunted by everyone and they’re left wondering who they can trust. It’s a pretty straight forward plot thread and features a few standard tropes, but it keeps up the action enough to keep things entertaining. The film also has the arduous task of doing an insane amount of world building in less than two hours. Fortunately, the film doesn’t hold your hand and force you to sit through long opening monologues or have characters whose sole existence is to dispense exposition. Instead “Bright” fleshes out the world through casual conversations and interactions with characters. This doesn’t teach you everything about the world, but gives you enough to understand the current conflicts and why there is so much animosity between the races. It’s exactly enough information for you to get a grasp of what’s at stake without drowning you in story.
However, the narrative thread starts to lose steam by the third act and it feels like they didn’t have a solid way of ending the film. There’s a definite point where you feel like they said: “Well, what do we do next?” And the best idea was to force the characters to collide in a rather unnatural way. Suddenly everyone is exactly where they need to be in order to bring everything to an end. There are also certain plot threads that never get resolved or feel like they were left on a cutting room floor. This is one of the rare occasions where I wish the movie had been longer so we would’ve gotten a better resolution to the plot.
These days Will Smith gets a lot of flack for playing “Will Smith” and . . . yeah he kind of does that still, but this is a meaner Smith and more akin to his “Bad Boys” persona. It’s not an amazing performance, but it’s probably the most I’ve liked Will Smith in recent memory. The real star of the show is Joel Edgerton who shows he continues to have an amazing range. He completely disappears into the role of Jakoby, not only because of the excellent prosthetics, but because of his characterization and mannerisms. Jakoby doesn’t just feel like a man in an Orc mask, he feels like a fully realized character that I could believe existed in our world. It’s a surprisingly nuanced performance and shows that Edgerton is truly an underappreciated actor.
My only other complaint about the film is the range of action. This film has an interesting problem where we see Ward and Jakoby battling with humans in gritty realistic fights where people get in close quarters and brutalize each other. However, when the elves enter the fray they have wire-fu combat so they’re going all crazy and doing super gymnastics. It’s a little jarring to see and it makes it super unbelievable that a normal guy like Ward can survive three seconds in any confrontation with an elf. Still, there are plenty of great actions sections to be had in the film. My favorite involving a car trapped in a convenience store and revving back and forth in an attempt to crush our heroes.
“Bright” is far from a great film, but it’s a unique-as-hell blockbuster and it’s an endearing first film that could easily lead to a franchise for Netflix. There are a lot of great ingredients in this one and all it needs to be truly successful is a more well-rounded plot. This is one of the rare films where I absolutely hope they get a sequel because I want to see how they evolve the world. If you have Netflix you should definitely give it a shot.