Review by Owen Herman
Since December 22nd it has been impossible to navigate through Netflix without bumping into Bright, their $90 million original film. Directed and produced by David Ayer (the man behind End of Watch, but also Suicide Squad), it is a modern-day fantasy set in a world like our own, but one that is also populated by orcs, elves, and other fictional folks. Bright follows two LA cops, human Ward (Will Smith doing Will Smith) and orc Jakoby (Joel Edgerton under heavy prosthetics) as they discover a magic wand which brings with it a multitude of problems including corrupt cops, somersaulting elves, and the possible return of a Dark Lord.
It was clear from the trailers that Bright was attempting some form of social commentary on race through its fantasy, with orcs being demonized and elves being privileged. As soon as the film starts this message is shoved down your throat and it doesn’t let up at any point. Fantasy has often been used as an allegory for social issues and personal problems, and to brilliant effect in some cases. However, it has never failed so spectacularly as in Bright. The film’s depiction of racial issues in America is at its best, lazy and childishly simple, and at its worst, downright insensitive. Depictions of police brutality, the oft quoted line “fairy lives don’t matter”, and the fact that orcs are given the stereotypical behaviours associated with minorities all add up to a film that feels both poorly handled and a part of the problem. Instead of ever tackling the issue head on, the film is simply saying ‘look that’s racism, but with orcs’ repeatedly.
If these more complex issues weren’t bad enough, the filmmaking itself is also pretty poor. The fantasy world set up is inconsistent and never feels real. Both a centaur and a dragon make bafflingly brief appearances without either race fitting into the overall film in any way. Three elves spectacularly breeze through a large group of heavily armed thugs before repeatedly struggling with two injured police officers. Speaking of injuries, Ward takes a gunshot wound to the arm for it to only affect him when the plot demands it. Also, if touching a wand kill humans, why is every human trying their hardest to touch the wand? It feels like it just chucking in things for the sake of it, without really giving thought to how it could affect the world they are presenting. These problems are nit-picky, but the fact that they are so noticeable shows how unengaging the film is.
Between clunky (and occasionally cringe inducing) dialogue and some flat performances, none of the characters stand out or really demand to be cared about. The plot is bizarre but completely predictable, and only moves along at a reasonable pace thanks to the average actions scenes. The film takes itself too seriously to be fun, but is also too bonkers to actually be serious. But perhaps the most infuriating thing about Bright is that Netflix has spent so much time, money, and effort to advertise this film beyond any other, leaving originals like the universally praised Mudbound with little promotion. Overall Bright is annoying, forgettable, and frankly, quite dull.