A film review by Craig J. Koban January 7, 2018


2017, No MPAA Rating, 117 mins.


Will Smith as Daryl Ward  /  Joel Edgerton as Nick Jakoby  /  Noomi Rapace as Leilah  /  Lucy Fry as Tikka

Directed by David Ayer  /  Written by Max Landis 


The ironically titled BRIGHT is a would-be compelling genre mishmash effort that's so dull and uninspired in terms of execution that you have to wonder where its near $100 million budget went. 

Netflix's most expensive feature film in their history was able to use that capital to nab a high marquee star and director in Will Smith and David Ayer away from theatrical productions and to the streaming service, and the end results clearly reveal that their talents were never fully utilized.  BRIGHT has a somewhat ingenuously intriguing premise that combines a contemporary cops thriller and procedural with social commentary and pure fantasy, but it rarely seems to find a manner to make all of its seemingly unrelated elements gel smoothly together.  The lack of core universe building on display here is kind of stupefying.

But I gotta admit: Ayer (SUICIDE SQUAD, END OF WATCH, and FURY) and screenwriter Max Landis (CHRONICLE and AMERICAN ULTRA) must have given this flick a slick pitch: Imagine a film that's like ALIEN NATION meets TRAINING DAY meets THE LORD OF THE RINGS...all set in modern, but alternative timeline L.A. that has humanity living an uneasy co-existence with orcs, elves, and other creatures ripe from the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien...and with a healthy dosage of themes that parallel human and non-human relationships with that of whites and ethnic groups.  To say that BRIGHT is high concept and ambitious minded would be the grandest of understatements, not to mention that the underlining hook here seems like the perfect launching pad for a potentially rich and absorbing franchise.  Regrettably, Ayer and Landis fumble the ball at making all of their film's ideas work, and their mostly feeble and obvious attempts at dealing with racial injustice on multiple fronts lacks nuance and seems extremely forced.  When Smith's bigoted cop scream out - after bashing a small fairy that's been loitering on his front porch - that "Fairy lives don't matter!" then you gain an immediate sense of this film's lack of subtlety.



In the alternate history version of this film's Earth humans, orcs, and elves have had a very tenuous relationship and have fought - in one form or another - for thousands of years.  In present day L.A. (which looks perplexing like the real L.A., despite having centuries of fantasy creatures living with humans) we meet Smith's aforementioned police officer, veteran of the force Daryl Ward, who recently has been partnered against his will with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, buried on layers of very convincing makeup), who has become the city's very first orc cop working the beat.  Nick, like most of his kind, is ridiculed for being different, but he shares the human trait of wanting to do his duty and protect and serve the public.  Nevertheless, he becomes a smear campaign target by both humans who hate his kind and by his own race, who see him as  - pardon the pun - a copout that's sold his occupational soul to the enemy.

Daryl really, really takes a disliking to Nick, mostly because there's evidence to suggest that he let a fellow orc escape from police capture, which led to the creature shooting and nearly killing Daryl.  As troubled as their working relationship is, Daryl finds himself being forced to continue to work with his "diversity hire" despite having serious trust issues with him.  As the pair learn to deal with each other on patrol their find themselves embroiled in a massive conspiracy that involves a clandestine elf society and a very lucrative magic wand that only magic users called "brights" can harness to its full power (the unworthy that touch it explode).  Predictably, Daryl and Nick get their hands on one of those sought after wands and also an all powerful elf Bright (Lucy Fry) that everyone - including rogue elements of the LAPD - wants to apprehend for their own nefarious purposes.

BRIGHT has a few...er...bright spots, especially when it comes to the casting of Joel Edgerton as the beleaguered orc, who manages to make this strange and grotesque looking creature sort of serenely charming and a figure of sympathy despite being absolutely unrecognizable with makeup (which, again, is pretty sensational).  The overall look of the orcs is uniquely varied, with the bottom feeders looking like inner city thugs replete with tattoos, gang colors and graffiti.    Ayer also reliably gives the otherwise fantastical BRIGHT a street level grit and unpredictable intensity that he has successfully fostered in previous cop thrillers.  There's clearly an attempt made here, I guess, to flesh out some of the particulars of this outlandishly strange and cockamamie world, and having talented and fly-in-under-the-radar actors like Edgerton play things straight despite the madness of what surrounds him allows BRIGHT to not come off as unintentionally comedic.

Smith's performance, oddly enough, is one of the film's detrimental aspects, seeing as he mostly coasts by and never fully harnesses his frequently unmatched on screen charisma of past roles.  That, and Daryl is not particularly likable nor fully deserving of our rooting interest, even when Landis' screenplay goes through the obligatory motions of making this initially odious character turn a new leaf and learn the error of his bigoted ways.  BRIGHT's handling of its themes, as mentioned, also does the film no favors whatsoever.  Now, considering the fact that Daryl is African American and a deeply racist individual when it comes to Nick would make for some ironically compelling story beats, but Landis' handling of the narrative trajectory doesn't seem to allow for such thoughtful investigation.  And, yeah...I get it...BRIGHT is aiming for parallels between the racial discrimination between orcs and humans with white people and minorities, but they're so weakly handled and aggressively in your face that it makes such allegorical referencing redundant.  Smart movies don't tell you what they're about; they show you what they're about:   BRIGHT seems to be so nonsensically preachy in the former category.

And considering that this Netflix film has a budget that rivals other theatrical studio fare, the genuine lack of conceptual imagination and design in fleshing out this world is one of BRIGHT's biggest lost opportunities.  Visually, Ayer's touch here never taps into the endless possibilities of such a crowded and multi-species world, and instead he places most key sequences in darkly lit ghetto streets, abandoned and decrepit warehouses, and other desolate locations that drown out this film's own sense of the otherworldly.  We get a brief glimpse of how the upper class elf high rollers live, but it's so fleeting and nonchalantly thrown in that you want to throw up your hands in  frustration while watching.  Most saddening is how BRIGHT eventually builds towards a climax of stale cop genre troupes and mechanically derived payoffs that feel like they belong in antiquated action films from the distant past.  

BRIGHT also never fosters a legitimately worthy villain, with the closet thing approximating that being Noomi Rapace's blank staring and white haired elf that's all venomous hatred and not much else.  With this film's already too-long-for-its-own-good running time of nearly two hours, it's staggering how little plot and character development there is here.  BRIGHT is one of those annoyingly uneventful P.W.P. efforts, or films that have a premise without payoff.   I applaud the ambition on display in this Netflix Studio effort, but this fantasy/buddy cop thriller is wholly bereft of innovation and evocative style.  Conflictingly, BRIGHT takes itself as serious as a heart attack to the point of it lacking in pure entertainment value while also being too broadly silly at other times to be taken seriously.  Netflix has been recently raising their monthly subscription fees with alarming frequency.  If that extra money is going into producing lackluster productions like BRIGHT then most of us should be considering canceling our subscriptions.

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