There’s something about movies that Netflix haven’t quite figured out yet. They may be dominating the realm of prestige TV, but the multiplex has been a tougher kingdom to conquer – and if Bright proves anything its a war they’re far from winning.
Bright (2017) is a fantasy crime drama written by Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad). It stars Will Smith as Daryl Ward, a grizzled cop in an alternative LA filled with fantasy species living side by side with humans. Forced to work with Orc partner Nick (Joel Edgerton), the two stumble onto a magic wand and must fight to survive the night and stop an ancient prophesy from coming true.
I mean… its better than Suicide Squad? While writer Landis has heralded this as ‘his Star Wars‘ this is a sigificant miss for both Ayer and Netflix. Not likely to be the franchise-starter they want, and while there may be some glimpses of greatness here, ultimately Bright does not shine per its name.
The melding of Lord of the Rings mythos with End of Watch sounds like one hell of a pitch – and initially it is. The world is steadily fleshed out with a mixture of natural and nail-scraping exposition that, while very on the nose, does firmly establish the world as an interesting parallel to our own. Ideas of class structure, wealth inequality and racism aren’t handled with the most deft touch but they do add an interesting element to an already strong premise. However, that potential is subsequently wasted by a plot that feels rushed, underdeveloped and dull all at the same time. There’s enough interesting material here that its hard to not suspect this would’ve made a much better TV series than film, but unfortunately its squandered on a plot that goes nowhere fast. This isn’t helped by a third act that falls apart under the weight of weird character choices and predictable plot twists, which ultimately ends a lacklustre movie on an even more sour note.
One area that Bright‘s a bit more successful in is the cast. Will Smith is, well, Will Smith but that comes with the typical admittance of him being the usual likeable and endearing persona we often see him as. While co-star Edgerton (who, side-note, I think is one of the most underrated actors/directors working today) is hampered by extremely thick, albeit excellent, make-up he still manages to deliver a good performance that bounces off Will Smith quite well. Their chemistry falls into the usual buddy-cop territory but watching the two slowly grow accustom to each other is one of the better parts of the viewing experience. Noomi Rapace also appears in a critical supporting role, and while she does a decent job her performance is hampered by some horrible to non-existent character work. The previously-mentioned third act deals heavily with her relationships with other characters and sadly almost none of it works – a shame for such a talented actress.
Another area of limited success for the film is Ayer’s direction itself. The movie is drenched in his usual style of grittiness and borrows heavily from his previous film End of Watch for the better. For a streaming exclusive (even if the budget is almost $100 million), the visual effects are also fantastic – it never feels cheap or made-for-TV, giving it a solid blockbuster-esque aesthetic. The action benefits greatly from this money too, and while the few action scenes are relatively by-the-numbers, a few standout moments are at the very least memorable. It does still have that vaguely gross, off-putting tone that David Ayer seems to attract, but its nowhere near as unpleasant as it is in several of his other films.
Bright was a film I was legitimately excited for. Its got a great premise, talented people behind it and boast an extremely interesting world and mythology. But what was actually delivered was a final product of paramount disappointment. An underdeveloped story with almost insultingly overt societal commentary and a completely wasted world doesn’t quite drag down Bright to the dumpster fire some critics are heralding it as, but it gets far closer than Netflix clearly wanted. Bright is not the shining battleaxe Netflix needs in its war against the multiplex.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Not Recommended