When I first heard about ‘Bright’, about 6 or so months ago, I wasn’t sure I was going to review it. I immediately wondered if this movie was going to be the start of Will Smith’s Video On Demand film career, following the likes of Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage, who now seem to take any role that dangles a cheque in front of them, destined to end up in the digital media equivalent of the Bargain Bin at a Blockbuster (remember those?). But the more I heard about it, the more I realized that this was going to be Netflix’s first Big Budget Feature Film; a streaming release that could compete with anything showing at the Multiplexes these days. Really, this is the natural next step for Netflix, which is astounding when you consider that only 3 or 4 years ago, they were just an upstart ‘content’ provider, not a power-house studio that’s now nipping at the heels of the massive Hollywood film studios. This ‘high concept’ cop conspiracy / fantasy action flick is their first real shot out of the gate, where features are concerned.
So…here we were on Dec 22, the night of the last work day before Xmas break when the girlfriend and I decided to tuck in and check it out, as it had been released for viewing only hours earlier. As I mentioned, I wasn’t sure that I was going to make an effort to review this one, but as I hit Play, I realized that this being a significant milestone for Netflix, with a fair bit of impressive Hollywood clout behind the production, it would be worth my time to scribble about it. And scribble I did. As it started, I grabbed my trusty notepad and a nearby ink-stick. Before I regale you with my impressions, the story goes a lil somethin like dis:
In an alternate reality Los Angeles, where fantasy elements, such as Elves, Orcs, and Fairies (among others) maintain a ‘real world’ existence with Humanity, we meet LAPD Officer ‘Daryl Ward’ (Will Smith) and his new partner Officer ‘Nick Jakoby’; the first Orc cop on the force. While these two try to work through a hostile personal dynamic, stemming from ‘Ward’ having nearly been killed by an Orc that people suspect ‘Jakoby’ may have let get away, they cross paths with a desperate Elf named ‘Tikka’ (Lucy Fry). ‘Tikka’ is what’s known as a ‘bright’, a creature that is capable of physically handling a magic wand; an object containing a fantastic amount of raw magical power that can literally explode any non-‘bright’ on contact. The existence of this “nuclear bomb that grants wishes” comes to the attention of a Federal Task force led by a suave Elf named ‘Kandomere’ (Edgar Ramirez), who’s charged with securing such objects, as well as a mysterious Elven assassination squad led by a blood-thirsty chick named ‘Leilah’ (Noomi Rapace) and not one, but two local gangs, one Orc and one Human. EVERYBODY wants this thing! When a group of fellow officers threaten ‘Ward’ and ‘Jakoby’, they end up on the run, with ‘Tikka’ and the wand in tow as they fight for their lives.
So, here goes on what I scribbled about this flick.
-Cool Intro, shitty song. The opening credits play over gritty ‘hood footage of South Central LA (I think), showing us cool ‘fantasy’ street signs and graffiti, along with glimpses of these different fantasy creatures existing alongside humans…and not always peacefully. The visuals were sweet and helped set the tone. But then again, so did the aggravating rap track thudding away in our faces. I hate the VAST majority of so-called ‘gangsta rap’ (I get assailed by that shit at work CONSTANTLY…so very annoying)…so to be bombarded by this movie’s soundtrack right off the bat…didn’t bode well.
-Every movie, a ‘Will Smith Wakes Up’ moment. I was just reminded of other flicks like ‘Independence Day’ (1996), ‘I, Robot’ (2004), or ‘I Am Legend’ (2007) where a big deal, usually for humor’s sake, is made of Smith rising from a slumber at some point.
-Joel Edgerton is good. I’ve always liked Joel Edgerton, even his borderline racist portrayal of ‘Ramses’, in Ridley Scott’s pretty but misguided Biblical epic ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ (2014). Here, he brought a certain vulnerability and earnestness to his portrayal of the Orc who just wanted a badge and to serve. He still managed some decent physical acting through the heavy (but cool-looking) make-up that completed the image of ‘Jakoby’. Also check out his impressive directorial debut, 2015’s ‘The Gift’. Solid thriller, that one.
-Will Smith’s kinda a dick. Kinda says it all right there. From the get-go, where ‘Officer Ward’ goes all ‘Rodney King’ on a pesky fairy, to a messy death for the small creature, the character of ‘Ward’ is just a loud, antagonistic asshole to most of the people around him, especially his own partner, ‘Jakoby’.
-Music fucking annoying! Hip Hop shit!! Again, my patient and measured response to more questionable choices by the music department on this film.
-All cops are dicks!! Yep…almost all of the human characters, especially the cops, are mean, bigoted assholes and they go to length to get that across to the audience…to a fault.
-Heavy-handed + extreme.The ‘message’ of xenophobia, racism and police brutality comes at you like a baseball bat. If there’s one thing director David Ayer (‘Suicide Squad’) has never been accused of…it’s subtlety, and he certainly doesn’t hold back with this one.
-Definite ‘Alien Nation’ vibe. One of my favorite movies as a kid was 1988’s underrated ‘Alien Nation’, and I saw parallels here. In ‘Alien Nation’, James Caan’s bigoted LAPD detective is teamed up with the first ever ‘newcomer’ (extra-terrestrial refugee) plain-clothes detective to solve a murderous conspiracy in the seedy alien ‘underground’ of Los Angeles, while avoiding getting killed along the way. Here, instead of a humanoid alien species, we get LA infused with fantasy creatures instead. Bigoted cop Will Smith is teamed up with the first ever Orc cop and they must manuever through the seedy fantasy ‘underground’, while avoiding getting killed. See, kids? Parallels.
-David Ayer likes movies about assholes. Non-likeable characters EVERYWHERE!! This is a common theme in Ayer’s filmography. He ALWAYS has asshole characters all over the place in his movies. Just mean-spirited people. I wonder what that says about him…in Real Life.
-Good sound design. First gun fight. On a technical level (some clumsy editing aside), this movie is solid, in my opinion. Given Ayer’s fetishistic obsession with tough military / cop – type characters, settings and props, it makes perfect sense that he’d put the work in to get firearms sounding particularly sexy. And he succeeds. The opening gun fight, where ‘Ward’ and ‘Jakoby’ have to shoot it out with a dug-in sniper, sounded killer on our 5 Point 1.
-Cool slo-mo gunfight.There’s a sweet sequence where ‘Ward’ makes a fateful decision and engages in an ‘impossible odds’ gun fight that’s shown primarily in a way-slowed down 180 degree tracking shot as he opens fire. No substance…just looked slick.
-Unpleasant, constant F-bombs. I work in a fuckin warehouse, so I’m well-acquainted with fucking swearing, but I am very fucking aware that when you pepper your fuckin speech with curses n shit, it shows that you lack a goddamn imagination and / or a fucking vocabulary, and that you don’t actually fucking care if the person you’re addressing is actually fucking listening or not (unnecessary swearing distracts from your main point, especially if you over-do it). Another trend in Ayer’s flicks is this constant need to make the characters ‘tough’, and he seems to think that having them “Fuck this!” and “Fuck that!” at every turn makes them ‘cool’. Well…he’s wrong. They just sound like aggressive, unimaginative assholes and it distracted me from what may have been important info in among the gratuitous F-bombs.
-Good car chase + crash. As it says.
-Noomi Rapace looks good as an Elf. I generally think Noomi Rapace (‘Prometheus’) looks good as almost anything…but her features worked really well with the make-up, as did Edgar Ramirez’. I very much approved of the design and physical execution of their characters.
-Smith lacks charisma.Odd. For nearly two decades, one of Will Smith’s natural gifts as an actor was his expressive charisma. He could make almost any character likable in some way. Just not here. Seriously. I never found myself liking ‘Ward’ as the movie played out. I warmed up to him a bit at the end, but overall…there was very little to ‘like’.
-Elves are brutal!I really liked the portrayal of Noomi Rapace’s 3 man Elven hit squad. When they sprang into action, they were a force to be reckoned with. They fucked up a whole slew of people in quick and vicious ways, and I appreciated the ‘take-no-prisoners’ drive they seemed to embrace. Actually made them feel a little threatening.
-Ha! Coincidence straight out of ‘Training Day’! David Ayer wrote the script for the excellent Denzel Washington vehicle ‘Training Day’ (2001). One of the few short-comings of that story is the way that Ethan Hawke’s beleaguered cop character ‘Jake Hoyt’ manages to get out of being executed by some bought-off Latino gang bangers because he JUST HAPPENED to save the leader’s cousin from being raped by a crackhead earlier in the day. There’s an ex machina-type ‘save’ like that in ‘Bright’. It makes even more sense, when you consider that screenwriter Max Landis wrote the script specifically with Ayer in mind to direct. Ah, yes…the connections begin to reveal themselves.
-Will’s lookin old. Again, kinda says it all right there. He certainly isn’t looking all ‘Bad Boys’ spry and handsome any more.
-Flashy, over-blown ending. Reminds of ‘Suicide Squad’.Just another loud and spastic climax with a bunch of cranked up CG and yelling going on all over the place.
-What?! What the hell happened to Will?! Where’d he go?!! Useless extra ‘peril’ scene. This was just stupid. As the building the climax takes place in bursts into flames, ‘Ward’ and ‘Jakoby’ make a break for it through the fire. We see ‘Jakoby’ rush out…with no ‘Ward’. He’s just not there any more. The Orc runs back in, and finds ‘Ward’ all sprawled out on the ground and hurt, from some useless bullshit that happened offscreen, I guess. There was NO reason for this scene of forced danger. It felt tacked on and wasn’t necessary AT ALL for the progression of the narrative.
-Meh. Not terrible, not great.I scribbled this down when I thought credits were about to role. The scene we were on would’ve almost made sense to end it on. But…I was wrong.
-Jesus! How many endings?!See? There was at least two other scenes that both could’ve acted as effective endings, so by my way of seeing it, they filmed all 3, couldn’t figure which to use, decided ‘Fuck it’ and threw them all in. It’s probably not what happened…but that’s how it felt.
All in all, I like the concept behind ‘Bright’ and I’d be curious to see what happens with the sequel that Netflix has apparently already ‘green-lit’. There’s a lot to be mined from the idea of fantasy creatures and other fantastical elements interacting with a tangible-seeming world, like the one we live in. They just have to execute it properly. I’m not entirely sure they hit the mark with this first one. It’s got a lot of issues. It’s overly crass, clumsily edited, with most of the characters being insufferable pricks, and there’s way too much ignorant ‘tough guy’ posturing, in a script that feels like it borrowed a lot from other, better projects, all back-dropped by a grating sound track. It does have some cool designs and scenes, I liked the world-building, the action is fast and hard-hitting, and Joel Edgerton is effective as the earnest Orc cop who just wants to make a difference. Recommending this one for a theatre viewing would be tough, but since ‘Bright’ is Netflix exclusive…I’d say give it a look, if you want to shut your brain off to some interesting ideas, cool visuals and fast n loud action scenes, cuz really…that’s all you’re going to get from it.