A nuclear bomb that grants wishes.
This is a spoiler-free review of Bright.
Netflix’s Bright is an ambitious undertaking from the streaming giant. Director David Ayer (Suicide Squad) takes Max Landis’ (Chronicle) script and tries to shape it into something tangible that will neatly fit into a 2-hour runtime, but Bright is a compelling narrative that needed more time to breathe. Landis is building his own version of Lord of the Rings (meets Bad Boys), which is a story you can’t rush. Perhaps a sequel or a longer running time would offer this story and the world they created the larger context it required.
In Bright — elves, humans, faeries, orcs, and dragons all live together in a world that closely resembles ours. Will Smith plays officer Daryl Ward, who is forced to partner-up with the LAPD’s first orc policeman, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). Smith and Edgerton have excellent chemistry, as the two very different cops must learn to work together in a world that doesn’t think orcs and humans should coexist.
While Smith is as full of charm and bravado as ever, it’s Edgerton who steals the show. His portrayal of Jakoby is heartwarming. He’s an orc who’s out of place in the world of humans and even among his own people. Most of his fellow orcs don’t like the idea of him working with the police. Landis’ script feels timely, with issues of race, gender, national pride, and police brutality echoing throughout the film. There are times when this message can feel heavy-handed, but overall, the use of modern political issues set in this fantasy world works.
The larger story in Bright focuses on a magical wand, reminiscent of Sauron’s ring of power in LOTR, that’s highly sought after for its abilities. Jakoby refers to it as, “A nuclear bomb that grants wishes.” There is an order of renegade elves called the Inferni that want to use the wand to resurrect an ancient evil referred to as The Dark Lord. While the premise does lead Jakoby and Ward on some exciting adventures, the overall story feels rushed and incomplete.
Many of Bright’s shortcomings are also due to the poor development of its secondary characters. Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) makes for an imposing villain as the leader of the Inferni, but there’s not enough backstory to make her interesting. Her character Leilah looks incredible and Rapace is a capable actress, but her character’s all show and little substance. Again, Bright needed more time to spread its wings. It feels like Landis and Ayer were trying to cram parts 1, 2, and 3 into one movie.
Edgar Ramirez (Joy) is another underdeveloped character that I wanted to learn more about. Ramirez plays an elf named Kandomere, who is the head of a federal magic task force. Apart from his flamboyant clothes and great skin, he’s not given any good material to work with. Kendomere is desperate to find members of the Inferni, but it’s unclear as to why (besides it being his job). Surely there’s a backstory there that didn’t make the final cut.
On a technical level, Ayer’s use of muted colors and gritty filming locals centered around Los Angeles gives Bright a more authentic look (there’s even orc graffiti on the sides of buildings). The fight choreography is fun, especially when the elves join in on the action. Their kicks and flips dazzle in every scene. For the most part, Bright uses practical effects, but when the wands are out, or there’s a faery flying around, the special effects are top notch. Netflix used their $90 million dollar budget to make a visually striking film.
Bright has the potential to be something great down the road if the film is successful for Netflix. Unlike LOTR, Landis and Ayer don’t have a plethora of novels to use as a reference. They are creating a world from scratch — one that would have worked better as a television series. The larger canvas of a series would have given these characters and subplots the time they needed to develop into something more meaningful.
There was so little time spent learning about how this fantastical world functions because Bright was in such a hurry to get to the end. At the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con, Ayer stated that he already knows what he’d like to do for the second film if it gets picked up. He wants to delve deeper into the elf and orc societies, which is great, but if that never happens, Bright will remain an underdeveloped film.