The Dallas Examiner
The Netflix film Bright, released on the subscriber service Dec. 22, is an intriguing mix of film genres that is apparently intended to be a holiday blockbuster for the relatively new world of digital video streaming. To that end, casting Will Smith as Los Angeles police officer Daryl Ward – a public servant in a world where humans have for centuries shared the planet with elegant elves, brutish orcs, barbarians, fairies and dragons and where magic is as accepted as science and more powerful than common firearms – was a wise move.
Smith has perhaps been best known in the past for his summertime successes, and the creators of Bright are attempting to rekindle some of that out-of-the-world Men In Black magic. But after a few years of notable misfires – After Earth; the love-it-or-hate-it Suicide Squad – the actor’s foray in an effects-heavy, subscriber-based television movie could be a new career move that pays off for all involved.
Bright appears to be a fairly straightforward but odd tale, according to its advertisement and media buildup. Ward is teamed up with diversity hire Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) as his partner, the nation’s first orc police officer.
It is a move no human or orc is particularly happy with; as the various races and species have generally intermingled and assimilated, elves have gone through the centuries from wise and mysterious creatures to becoming elitist, self-segregating beings due to their natural skill with magic. Orcs, on the other hand, were the losers of an eons-long war fought in support of an evil creature called the Dark Lord. For that, all of humanity and the mythological alike look down on orcs, viewing them all as contemptible. The end result is that the orcs embrace this projection and are engaged in either military warfare, menial jobs or gang-banging organized crime. An orc as a cop is seen as a traitorous, untrustworthy role by the whole of society.
As Daryl and Nick work around their differences – and a group of human officers so emotionally corrupted by their anger and disgust with the orc that they hatch a plan to eliminate him – the federal Magic Task Force has learned that a wand has appeared in Los Angeles.
In this supernatural world, wands are powerful conduits for magic, “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes,” one character notes. But wands can only be handled by a “bright”– usually but not always.
Complicating the MTF’s duty to secure the wand are human and orc gangs out to claim the wand as their own. In addition, an underground coterie of renegade elves, the Inferni, led by Leilah (Noomi Rapace), are after the wand in an attempt to bring back the Dark Lord. Meanwhile, an equally underground group called the Shield of Light is trying to prevent the Inferni from succeeding by struggling to hide the wand from humans, the more sinister elves, and the task force.
The greatest parts of the film combines elements of Smith’s past work: humor, effects, stunts, alien or otherworldly forces, and often with a socially-conscious viewpoint. Along with Edgerton, who is extremely gifted at hilariously confused or socially awkward deadpan delivery, Bright recalls the Bad Boys buddy cop films, the social drama of Ali, the subtext of alienated-superhero as a Black man in a White world in Hitchcock, conspiracy fears and unknown technology from I, Robot, and the swaggering but genial family man soldier from Independence Day.
Therein lies the biggest flaw of the film. Writer Max Landis, director David Ayer and the multiple executive producers did not seem to be clear in the movie they wanted to present, so they hit the highlights of all of Smith’s successes. The result is that Bright tries to do too much. The first 30 or so minutes are an almost dreadfully serious examination of orcs as lower-class African Americans where even impoverished Blacks have a higher social status. Elves are more privileged that the wealthiest White country club family, yet there is still massive power behind local Latin gangs, while the police force is integrated with a large number of Asians. The humor is there, as is the folklore mumbo-jumbo, but the film feels at this point that it is going to be a scholarly examination of race relations using both human ethnicities and fictional beings as characters on which to clothe the skeleton of the theme.
Even orc Nick seems to represent an Eastern European Jewish refugee rather than the Black Americans that literally every other orc appears to mirror. With his Russian background that one cop speaks of, the surname Jakoby, his voicing that orcs made the wrong choice long ago and are still paying for it (touching upon the worn-out narrative that Jews killed Jesus) and the addition of a blessing from a prophecy as well as a resurrection scene, it is as if the creators were trying to cover too much symbolic territory. Thus, Bright starts out being a well-intended, high-concept mess.
Still, as the film moves on and we become more accustomed to the unusual characters, we as an audience see the human qualities, good and bad, in those on screen. They become more relatable. The action scenes are exciting and intense. The jokes flow more regularly and are better crafted, with Smith in his best form and Edgerton cementing Daryl and Nick as a comedic, but caring, duo rivaling that of Smith and MIB costar Tommy Lee Jones.
In terms of comedy, this is similar to what the movie R.I.P.D. tried to do with demons but with much less success, while the magic-in-our-reality film The Dark Tower came and went quickly from theaters last year with little notice. Even with its flaws and misses, Bright is able to mix the action, comedy and effects to a degree both of the previously mentioned cinematic offerings failed to deliver. There are even enough unaddressed plot points that the chances of sequels are likely.
If a viewer wishes to sit through Bright as a metaphoric tale on race and class in the Trump era, they will be disappointed. However, should patient viewers be just fine with a fish-out-of-water cop buddy comedy, with some hocus pocus thrown in and nothing more than a hint of social commentary in the background, such an audience may have great two hours of entertainment ahead.
Film representatives revealed Wednesday on Twitter that a sequil is on its way, after interviews for new orc cast members were leaked.
On a scale of 1 to 5, Bright gets a 4. Filled with intense drama for the female viewer and action packed for male viewers, the film is 117 minutes and rated TV-MA for violence, language and nudity.