Long has my favorite genre been fantasy. Fantasy is a genre that can encompass any other genre as well as create imaginative worlds and characters. With fantasy, the only limits you have is your own imagination. To quote the great J.R.R. Tolkien, “Fantasy (in this sense) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.”
In some ways, the David Ayer directed film (with a script by Max Landis) Bright exemplifies these traits I have written about above. Bright is a buddy cop movie in the tradition of Ayer’s previous films like End of Watch but with an added fantasy dimension. Orcs and Elves exist in this world, a world that is our modern day LA with that extra little twist of magic’s existence. Bright not only wants to be a modern urban fantasy but also wants to be a biting social commentary on race relations in modern America. Bright is clearly aspiring to be not just a fun fantasy action art piece but also (to paraphrase Tolkien) a higher form.
This is what makes Bright ultimately a disappointing endeavor. At times watching the movie was fun, but the movie was ultimately a frustrating experience. The potential is there to create a universe and film that is memorable, timely and most of all, fun. Bright does have its moments and has B-level buddy cop genre fun, but the story and characters undermine what was a great concept.
Joel Edgerton plays an Orc named Nick Jakoby, the first Orc on the police force and part of the “diversity” program. His partner is Daryl Ward, played by Will Smith, who is returning to the police force after getting shot by an Orc. There remains lingering doubt whether Jakoby let the Orc get away or not. The pair responds to a call one night where they discover an Elf carrying a magic wand, a rarity in the modern day. Now everyone wants the wand to themselves and the two cops find themselves being chased through the streets of LA by different factions, all wanting the wand for themselves.
The first thing that is clear watching this movie is how each race is an analogy for different issues surrounding racism. It is all handled in a pretty blatant and heavy-handed manner (not as heavy-handed Darren Anoksky’s Mother!). The film doesn’t go out its way to explore the racial themes, it all feels organic and natural to the narrative at hand. The movie doesn’t make any profound statements, but Bright does have things on its mind about modern America and explores it through the use of its different mythical creatures.
The world that David Ayer brings to life is perhaps the best part about this movie. The LA depicted in Bright is recognizable to us, and feels very contemporary but sliding over this “fantasy skin” adds another dimension. The groundwork is laid for a fascinating mythology; There are references to a dark lord and a war hundreds of years ago, magic, Dragons, Centaurs, but yet the Alamo still happened. This is all woven together in a way that left me wanting a lot more. Bright has that Star Wars feel where the world feels “lived in”. The world doesn’t feel like it was just built on a sound stage somewhere, this feels like it has existed for as long as ours has. There are a grit and complexity to this world. If Bright was made to do one thing and that was to sell me on the world, then this movie has more than accomplished that.
If I was only supposed to talk about the world and dynamic of the three different races, this film would have garnered itself more than worthy of praise. But there is also a story in Bright, and the story isn’t developed well at all. The entire movie is almost an elongated chase with very little room for the development of characters and plot.
Jakoby and Ward come across an Elf named Tikka. Most of the interesting developments for her character comes at the very end. By this point in the story, it is too late to make any impact on her development or character. Actress Lucy Fry only seems to play the one emotion, fear. The character is very one dimensional who acts more like a plot device than a character.
The villains are completely undeveloped with only paper thin motivations to drive them (much like Enchantress from Suicide Squad). There is an entire plotline surrounding the Federal police department and a militant group called the “shield of light” that goes absolutely nowhere. This entire story thread could have been cut without losing nearly anything from the overall narrative.
This type of story, where it centers around a single night or chase, needs something more to it than just cool action sequences. Mad Max: Fury Road works because there is more going on than just a chase. Fury Road is a visual storytelling marvel that develops its characters in the subtext and takes enough time, in the beginning, to set up the world. David Ayer’s script for Training Day centers around just a single day and is an incredibly dark and compelling cop drama. Training Day has plenty of great moments of action, but it also invites us to journey into the greedy and crooked underworld of dirty narcotics cops. The narrative of Training Day is always moving but manages to keep the characters at the forefront. Bright doesn’t have the strengths of either to bring its story or characters to life.
There is some fun to be had in Bright. Will Smith and Joel Edgerton are both good in the movie, there are some solid action sequences, a well-realized world, and concept but that’s where the positives end. Bright will no doubt have a small but loyal fan-base based on these merits alone, and I’ll be waiting to join them. If a sequel (or even a TV series) can make better use of the concept, then I will gladly jump back in. For now, Bright falls severely short of its aspirations and is an overall disappointment.