Bright is not the best film of 2017. Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s not one of the worst ones either.
First and foremost, Bright has, for lack of a better word, a really cool premise. Over millennia past, humans, elves, orcs, fairies and all manner of magical beasts have lived together, harmoniously and otherwise, bringing us to a time and place resembling a somewhat more fantastical version of modern Los Angeles. Seemingly owing to some largely unexplained event that happened 2,000-odd years ago, Orcs, having chosen some dark-side or other that didn’t end all life on earth as we know it, now live as a permanent underclass, while elves are the one percenters and humans get on pretty much as we always have.
Enter local cop Daryl Ward (Will Smith), lumped with Jakoby, the one and only Orc on the Force (an unrecognisable and oh so talented Joel Edgerton). Smith, skating a line between his I, Robot frustrated Officer of the law and the Mike Lowrey persona for which he is much better known, is emblematic of what is both great and terrible about a very mixed bag of a film.
Investigating a standard call-out which bears, as won’t go unexpected, profound implications for the Officers’ lives and those of all they know, this genre-cruising bender lacks a defined tone that does not, as might have been hoped, simply come nice and packaged with the non-traditional fusion of fantasy and cop-drama. Smith and Edgerton at times appearing as if they’re in different films, full-throated fight scenes resembling what made the likes of Underworld so endearing crunch up against the laissez-faire Deadshot vibes that one would have hoped Smith and Director David Ayer had learnt to deploy with restraint since Suicide Squad.
Edgerton, the heart and soul of this film, plays it straight almost throughout, fast becoming the emotional backbone and roundly intriguing focus of the flick. It is not easy to act your heart out when littered with make-up but Edgerton takes up by far Bright’s most challenging role with welcome aplomb. His interplay with Smith variedly striking the balance between aspirational fantasy and grounded realism and at times else wreaking with wince-worthy, nonsequitous dialogue, one later, prophetic sequence in a vehicle gets it just right. Smith is one of a select few in a small club featuring Bruce Willis and seldom others who can carry a gritty, lightheartedly funny and at the same time duly emotive sequence and it is his casting, alongside the excellent Edgerton, which would otherwise have left this film greatly wanting.
The penultimate scene, verging on Bright’s most sincere, itself a testament to the quality of Edgerton’s output, would have been its best had not the film’s regrettable and wholly unnecessary final five minutes utterly let it down. Achieving a genuinely stirring instance amid the incessant carnage, immediately reverting to the blithe interactions that characterised it’s lesser moments was ill-advised to say the least. Bright may start with Ward as it’s central character though by the end Jakoby is far and above its most consequential asset, yet the lingering dramatic focus elsewhere almost doggedly refuses to recognise this narrative’s central and most enduring appeal.
The numerous action sequences are well staged and thrilling even if they are at times irritatingly unrelenting. The commitment to world-building, something that could be the focus of a planned sequel, largely starts and stops with the premise and a few hurried explanations; the impact of these various sentient races sharing the earth on daily goings-on and else not being too readily apparent. Edgar Ramirez’s Elven ‘Federal Agent’ is only one of a number of woefully underdeveloped characters, joining Lucy Fry’s ‘Tikka’ as one of Bright’s central though greatly elusive focal points.
Noomi Rapace brings her distinctive intensity to a darkly but not so morbid role as she has recently been accustomed; playing the largely nondescript Leilah who is intent on summoning some generic “Dark Lord” for the purposes of darkness, or something.
Turning to the film’s more vexed building blocks, Bright’s abundantly conspicuous racial subtext not too dispiritedly attempts for it’s varied audiences (while by no means irrelevant to its particular setting) to depict it’s particular conceit as broadly metaphorical of ubiquitous racial tensions. A unique cornerstone of one egregious dynamic between races however, explained obliquely as a latent consequence of some event happening those millennia ago and too depending on interpretations that could be drawn from the clearly illusory tale, has the ability to inform greatly contentious readings of this film abruptly divergent from many of its stated thematic thrusts, choice dialogue and concluding notes. This itself another consequence in part of the lack of distinctive world-building, a few of the film’s eruptive one-liners, among those that feature heavily in the promotional material, could also just as well have been better realised as more engaging and too thought-provoking had a greater context been drawn within which we could immerse ourselves.
Flawed if worthwhile viewing, for all its misgivings Netflix have put their resources behind something that’s different and, thankfully, uncommonly original.
Bright is now streaming on Netflix