After hitting it out of the park with both Okja and Mudbound, Netflix’s latest original film Bright is a huge step backwards in some regards. While the company deserves credit for taking risks and financing high-concept works, David Ayer’s latest film proves that even ambitious streaming companies like Netflix can completely misread what consumers want from modern blockbusters.
Bright wants to be everything to everyone. It wants to be a socially conscious film that has something to say about racism in America, but its “can’t we all just get along” simplistic message is almost laughably offensive. It wants to be a fantasy film with an inventive approach to world building, while still being grounded in the confines of reality. It wants to be a non-stop action film, while also being a layered drama about trust and friendship.
Set in a version of Los Angeles were humans live alongside magical Elfs (the wealthy) and Orcs (the poor), Ayer’s film follows officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) as he returns back to work after recovering from a gunshot wound that occurred while on the job. Ward is reluctantly paired with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the only orc on the force, who is a treated like a pariah by both his fellow officers and his Orc community.
While on duty the duo come across a “bright”, an Elf with special magical abilities, named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who is in possession of a rare magical wand. A wand that belongs to the fearsome Elf Leilah (Noomie Rapace). When rumours of the wand begin to spread, along with the fact that it has the power to change people’s fortunes, everyone from corrupt cops to gang members to Leilah herself will stop at nothing to get their hands on the powerful object.
I am lukewarm at best on Ayer as a director. His style and approach to storytelling has always rubbed me the wrong way. Having said that, I enjoyed the insanity of this film.
Make no mistake the story is a mess at times. It is an uneven mash-up of films [e.g. Alien Nation meets The Warriors meets The Lord of the Rings meets (enter buddy cop film of your choice here), etc]. Bright is one of those high-concept ideas that would have worked better as a 13-part Netflix series rather than forcing everything into a bloated two hours. Still, I was willing to go down this crazy rabbit hole of snobbish rich Elfs, dirty cops and Orcs living in the hood.
There are several action sequences that work far better than they should, and the chemistry between Smith and Edgerton, the latter is the best thing in the film, help to keep my interest throughout Max Landis’ rough and extremely muddled script. While I can understand why critics are treating Bright like it is the cinematic equivalent of rancid milk, frankly I still cannot explain what makes one a “bright”, the film is far from the worst thing I have seen this year. It is not even the worst Ayer film…looking at you Suicide Squad.