So get this: it’s a buddy cop movie starring Will Smith. Yeah, sure, it reminds one of Bad Boys, only Smith’s partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) is an Orc. And Smith’s character, Ward, is racist against Orcs like the rest of the police force. In this universe, pretty much everyone is racist against Orcs, and Elves, and Fairies. At one point, Smith swings a broom at a Fairy, trying to kill it, and says: “Fairy lives don’t matter today.”
So, you know, the film’s subtle.
Ward and Jakoby find themselves in the middle of a war between the police, various gangs, and some assassin Elves. It is a war over a misplaced wand, which, based on what people are willing to do for it, seems to have an equivalent power to the One Ring in Lord of the Rings. The two cops have the wand and no one to trust as they race through L.A. just to survive, finding themselves in shoot-out after shoot-out until the movie’s over.
Max Landis, screenwriter, hides all of the trite cliches of the genre under Orc makeup and colored contacts. Tries to hide them, at least. Sure, there are novel pieces of world-building and moments of subversion. When Ward and Jakoby are holed up behind a bar, quite conventionally, they discuss how to handle the armed thugs on the other side, only to jump out ready to shoot and find that a bunch of Elves have already taken care of the gangsters. It is a humorous, self-aware moment, but it is one of the few that work correctly.
Looking past the heavy-handed subtextual narrative about race relations, there are parts of the diegetic world that show storytelling promise. That Jakoby is the rare Orcish police officer—his teeth shaved down to nubs that function as a symbol of his perceived subservience and his unique identity—makes for an intriguing character. But the mediocrity of the narrative at large makes these minor bits of effective character and world-building work feel wasted.
As the movie progresses, it becomes more rote and dramatically inert. Each action sequence looks the same, and none of them are choreographed or shot in particularly entertaining ways. What we are left with, then, is a series of scenes in the middle of this already overlong movie that strain the pacing. It doesn’t help when every Elf character and gang member that the two police officers have to square up against are utterly devoid of emotion or personality.
Bright is Netflix’s first attempt at a big budget movie ($90 million). They will try again, certainly, and they have the benefit of being able to bury this title on their platform if it continues to perform so poorly from a critic standpoint. Still, Bright may be a telling misstep for a platform that churns out more original programming every year, most of which never rises above the threshold of mediocrity.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)