Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Édgar Ramírez, Ike Barinholtz. Directed by: David Ayer.
Much like the Robin Williams beard/clean shaven rule, there is also one for Will Smith. Will Smith without moustache and short back and sides is terrible. Smith, with moustache, is fun and on 90s form in this Netflix original movie.
Written by Max Landis, and directed by David Ayer, Bright is a fantasy film with a difference, taking the idea that two thousand years ago there was a near apocalyptic war between light and dark. The Dark Lord was aided by the Orcs, but was defeated when humans, elves, fairies and others magical creatures teamed up. Now, in the modern world, magic users or “brights” are outlawed, a social strata still exists, and underground cults warn of the Dark Lord’s return.
From the outset, Bright is like a fantasy version of Alien Nation, taking fantasy elements and mixing them with comments on the current world. In it’s set up, there are elements that work really well. The Orcs being portrayed in the same way as African and Latin American people works well; they work as janitors, and roll in gangs with their own subculture. The Elves live as the elite, rich and gorgeous, and in the middle are the humans.
What’s intriguing as commentary – unintended or not – from the start is that Will Smith, an African American, is the one who is reluctant to have a minority hired on the police force. In that respect, a skewering works really well, and Smith is really good in his role. So too are the moments that reflect things in the news. ‘Pig-Skin’ as an insult, grotesque in a similar way to the N-word works well, as does graffiti like ‘Curse the Police’, phrases like ‘Fairies Lives Don’t Matter’, all call to mind a thinking of a world where the magic and the mundane coexist.
Alongside Smith’s human cop Daryl Ward is Joel Egerton as Orc cop Nick Jakoby. Egerton’s manner as a person torn between duty and culture is layered and well acted, with little elements like his reluctance to reveal Orc abilities and his filed down teeth to appear gang-neutral. As well as those two is Edgar Ramirez as Elf fed Kandomere, whose eyes, long hair and flair for fashion show him as a higher strata member. Lucy Fry is also very good as elf Tikka, terrified of an oncoming attack. But the stand out here is Noomi Rapace as villainous elf Leilah, her features are perfect for the stern villain, and her emotionless way is truly frightening.
What doesn’t work so well is the shifts; not in tone, but in style. Ayer has always had a flair for the gritty dirty world of cops and street-level action, but as yet has failed to show any kind of flair for special effects. Much like Suicide Squad, he can’t quite help falling between a fantasy film and a gritty cop film which lurches the style at moments it needs to be consistent.
There’s also something nice about the fact that attention is paid to the subcultures, even if they border on parody of true problems, and doesn’t entirely add up.
Netflix’s investment in such a big venture is to commended, considering the amounts of blood squirts and F-bombs dropped throughout the film, but it shows a sure-footed knowledge that something original is more desirable than something obvious.
It helps that Max Landis script has big ideas in it, and Ayer likes them, the plotline is less important than the concept and at times the plot falls down to enjoy the world it’s creating. For one the Orc music and teeth bling works really well, even if the film doesn’t always know exactly where it’s going in terms of pacing or plotting.
It’s a mixed bag of a film, but one that is honourable in its missteps and thoroughly enjoyable whenever it succeeds. The idea of Brights being the most hallowed of all creatures is in intriguing, and the cast are all universally good.
What might work better if they decide to go down the sequel route is to really play up how the divide exists, and to introduce other creatures only hinted at in this film (dragons, centaurs etc.). Clearly having reacted to the stranglehold the studio had over Suicide Squad, and this is a much more controlled movie, one done by someone on his own terms.
If this is to birth a franchise, and it might, then things can only get… Brighter.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.