Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: Max Landis
Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Happy Anderson, Dawn Olivieri, Matt Gerald, Margaret Cho & Brad William Henke
Whether or not you’ve actually seen it, you’ve likely heard something about Netflix’s BRIGHT by now. This fantasy-crime film is the streaming service’s first attempt at huge blockbuster entertainment (sporting a budget of around 90 million dollars) and quickly became one of the most-watched programs in Netflix history. BRIGHT left a lot of polarized reactions in its wake, with some people outright hating it and others calling it a fun gem. I fall somewhere in the middle. This film has surprisingly great moments alongside heavy-handed attempts at obvious social commentary. Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty gritty of why BRIGHT isn’t as bright as it thinks it is.
In a world much like our own, except it’s also populated by orcs, elves, and fairies, Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is a human police officer who’s wary of his orc partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). A few months ago, Ward was shot on the job by an orc and he currently believes that Jakoby might have let the suspect go out of orc brotherhood ties. When the mismatched pair of police officers come across a grisly crime scene, they find quiet elf girl Leilah (Lucy Fry) and a magic wand (the equivalent of a wish-granting nuke). Word soon hits the streets that the human-orc pair are in possession of the magic wand. This means that Ward and Jakoby are running for their lives from corrupt cops, gun-wielding gangsters, brutal orcs, and a mysterious group of stab-happy elves. Also, there’s something about a vague prophecy, but you can likely guess where that is going.
Credit where credit is due, BRIGHT has well-shot action sequences. Though the film’s first third is slow and filled with groan-worthy moments (more on those in a minute), the last two-thirds run at a non-stop fast pace as soon as the wand comes into play. Director David Ayer knows how to competently shoot action scenes and that talent still comes across in this film…as silly and cliched as the material might be. The visuals are slick and it’s clear that a lot of money was poured into this project. This is Netflix’s biggest production so far and it shows. With a sequel already greenlit, it’s obvious that the company was impressed by what Ayer was able to pull off.
Even though it drops the ball on numerous occasions, BRIGHT contains a few creative concepts that are a lot of fun. The idea of a magic wand as a weapon of mass destruction sounds silly, but fits right into this over-the-top crime-ridden fantasy world. The idea that fairies are treated as insect-like pests and that stereotypes are attributed to thuggish orcs and aristocratic elves is dumb fun. However, BRIGHT really falters in its half-assed world building because certain developments are just plain confusing. Apparently, the Alamo did happen and SHREK still exists in this world…despite there being orcs, elves, magic, and clearly forces that are larger than humans. Is SHREK the equivalent of a really racist cartoon to these orcs? Inquiring minds (mostly my own) want to know.
BRIGHT gets really sloppy in its not-so-subtle social commentary, which is heavy-handed beyond belief. David Ayer has made powerful statements in past films. TRAINING DAY dove into horrifying corruption in law enforcement and how gangs can hold a code of their own to protect moral people in the right circumstances (highlighted by the powerful final moments that will forever be burned into my mind). FURY dove into the unrelenting terror of World War II and just how hopeless combat must have seemed for soldiers (regardless of how much brotherhood they felt during battle). BRIGHT basically tries to dive into what TRAINING DAY did, but nearly rips off parts of the former in many key moments. One particular scene seems directly lifted from TRAINING DAY’s intense, unforgettable final third of TRAINING DAY…but with orcs are involved and a magic wand.
As the supposedly racist cop who actually seems like a flawed (decent enough) protagonist, Will Smith elicits a few laughs and delivers enough charisma in his performance. Joel Edgerton (hidden under layers of make-up and bad CGI) fumbles with his part as the dorky orc officer. Part of the reason for my annoyance with Edgerton’s orc comes as a direct result of the character himself. However, other complaints come from Edgerton’s wooden delivery of certain lines. It’s like he knows that this is ridiculously stupid and just needed a quick paycheck (hopefully to pave the way for better films like his underrated directorial debut THE GIFT).
At the end of the day, BRIGHT is about as predictable as films can get. As soon as a supporting character delivers obvious exposition (and then is immediately forgotten about afterwards), the viewer can accurately guess one huge “surprise” in the final act. This plot development feels like a further slap in the face to the viewer, aside from the fact that this film runs at two hours and easily could have been trimmed by around 30 minutes. BRIGHT really drops the ball in its misguided attempts at social commentary (racism is signified by a childish “Kick Me!” sign on an orc’s back), sloppy world building, paper-thin characters, and piss-poor writing. The pace is fast, some of the spectacle looks good, and the action scenes are fun. However, the positives and negatives balance each other out for a strictly apathetic middle-of-the-road experience. Nothing more, nothing less.