Many features of the Internet exist in a Schrodinger’s Cat type space of being both good and bad for exactly the same reason. It’s good that anyone can say whatever they want but it’s also bad that anyone can say whatever they want. It’s good that you can bypass traditional shops and buy online. It’s also bad that can bypass traditional shops and buy online. It’s good that Netflix makes film that might not otherwise get made. It’s bad that Netflix makes films that might not otherwise get made. And so we come to Bright, a film that was destroyed by critics (some stated it was the worst film of the year), but seemingly enjoyed by many viewers. Starring Will Smith the film mixes cop and fantasy genres, creating a world where humans, orcs and elves have an uneasy coexistence. Smith plays Wade, a cop in the LAPD with an orc partner, Jakoby, who most of the cops call a diversity hire, or worse. Wade is returning to duty after being shot and there is some suspicion that Jakoby let the suspect escape because he was an orc – so a complicated partnership to say the least. Already a lot is happening but responding to a call Wade and Jakoby come across a run-away elf with a magic wand – a mix between a billion dollars and an atom bomb that many people are willing to kill for.
I very much like the idea of mixing a very modern world and inserting elements of high fantasy into it. In Bright there are arguments about diversity training in the police force and discussions of ancient prophecies, police corruption vies with fears of the Dark Lord. There’s a fun juxtaposition of these worlds that are normally completely separate but it’s a very fine line between an enjoyable mashup and a ridiculous failure.
Will Smith is also a very charismatic and likable actor and definitely while not one of his best performances he does a lot to carry this film, not so long ago he was known as “Mr July” for his ability to guarantee huge success for summer blockbusters. Smiths brings a tremendous amount of goodwill with him.
Bright plays on another feature of cop films – the cops who are on the run from everyone. Chasing Wade and Jakoby are corrupt cops, various gangs, orcs, and a cult of evil elves and have no idea who they can trust and they are normally authority figures are forced to act more like fugitives. I enjoyed the action scenes, some are very typical cop film shoot-outs and others bring more magic into it and both are well done.
None of the above is to say Bright is without problems. Much of the acting is not great and Smith is not bringing his best. The story suffers from too much going on with the Magic Wand Plot and the Wade-Jakoby relationship each warranting all of the attention. And absolutely Bright is not a great example of mixing two disparate genres successfully but I can live with a filmmaker’s reach exceeding their grasp, trying to do something interesting and different and it not working tends to lead to better films that people playing it safe.
One thing that bothers me in films like this which Bright is very guilty of – they take the modern world and drop these fantastical elements into, which have supposedly always existed, but not really thought about the changes in the world. One cop mentions that he still gets hassle from people talking about the Alamo and the idea that in this very different world American history played out, in the same way, is a bit bizarre. Also, there is not really much different about the world itself, society is very much the same, the one exception being it the people in charge are mainly elves.
Human, Orcs and Elves
Obviously in a movie about the LAPD and relationships between different races there are comparisons being made to real-life race relations and Bright’s handling of these is a little clumsy. Certainly the general message is police brutality is bad, prejudice is bad, unequal treatment from the police is bad. Wade has something of an arc in that he is unhappy with his orc partner (an orc-arc if you will), even suspecting that he let the orc who shot him go, but a lot of it seemingly purely because he is an orc. Throughout the first third of the movie Wade is portrayed as the least prejudiced cop towards the orcs but still prejudiced, he specifically tells his daughter that all the humans-elves-orcs are equals but does sound a little bit like something he has learned to say, rather than truly believe. Wade has a more low-level prejudice than his fellow police officers and I do think the film is in some way approaching the idea that it’s not enough to merely not be actively discriminatory (where I think Wade starts), but be anti-racist. But again it’s handled terribly well. By the end of the film Smith sees his partner, and orcs, differently.
So…was it really that bad?
Overall Bright is an enjoyable film that has some fun with mixing genres, it’s not great, probably won’t be remembered for too long but it’s nowhere near as bad as some people would say. With it being called the worst film of the year please remember that year also saw the release of The Snowman, The Emoji Movie and Geostorm.
Also Read: Was It Really That Bad?: Waterworld