Bright (2017) Review

Set in the alternate modern-day Los Angeles where humans co-exist with orcs, elves and fairies, Bright revolves around Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and his orc police partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) who find themselves in big trouble after discovering a precious magic wand.

Netflix’s highly-anticipated and most expensive movie to date happens to be a creative risk that Hollywood’s big studio would think twice about producing it: a big-budget genre movie which isn’t based from an existing IP. Which is why the streaming giant deserves all the kudos for taking such a huge gamble (US$90 million to be exact) for bringing Bright to the big small screen. At the first glance, Max Landis’ script has a huge, world-building potential. The Alien Nation meets End of Watch with a dash of Lord of the Rings grounded in the modern-day setting filled with humans, orcs, elves and fairies is no doubt a fascinating high-concept premise. No wonder they willing to pay Landis US$3.5 million for his script. I mean, look at the premise alone. If done right, Bright can expand into a franchise (although Netflix already greenlit the sequel). Best of all, this would be a proper comeback for both Will Smith and director David Ayer, whose previous collaborations in Suicide Squad was met with harsh criticisms albeit financial success.

However, somewhere in between, the end result seen in Bright is more of a missed opportunity. I wouldn’t say it was as bad as most critics already lashed it out in the first place. But it wasn’t good either. Just decent enough to satisfy most genre fans looking to spend their weekend glued in front of their TV or laptop. Like Suicide Squad, David Ayer still employs the same visual technique where most scenes take place during the night. Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. At least Ayer manages to make good use of the budget to execute some thrilling, though familiar action sequences that feel like you’re watching a 90s action movie. The essential action beats of the yesteryears are all here: the obligatory shootouts in the dingy building, (titty) bar, gas station, nighttime car chase, you name it.

If that’s not enough, you got a Will Smith doing his familiar Will Smith thing. The R-rated kind where he spews profanities, jokes and sarcasm like he’s reprising his famous Mike Lowrey role in the Bad Boys movies. Although he’s already past his prime, Smith still knows how to pull off the kind of performance we used to love him in the 90s. Besides, he pairs well with the unrecognisable Joel Edgerton in heavy prosthetics, who strikes a nice contrast playing a straightforward and mild-mannered orc cop.

Now, it would have been good if Landis’ potential script is well-executed. Unfortunately, that’s hardly the case. The script is underdeveloped, leaving a lot of ideas stuck in the neutral gear. If you watch the movie, it’s more than just a mishmash of buddy-cop actioner and fantasy genre. It also wanted to be as grounded as possible, with racial tension (in this case, the human cops have a tough time getting along with Joel Edgerton’s one-and-only orc cop) being the recurring theme here. Other fantasy beings, in the meantime, are being portrayed as racial stereotypes. Here, the orcs are more of street thugs while elves belong to the upper-class society. Still, every underlying theme that presented in the movie is all superficial.

Perhaps it has something to do with David Ayer being the director of this movie. After all, his comfort zone is always the cop genre. Bright works best when he pulls off an End of Watch-kind of cop movie. But when it comes to the fantasy genre, the result is uneven. Sure, the idea of the magic wand being treated like a hot commodity and the introduction of the evil group of elves led by Noomi Rapace’s Leilah has the cool factors written all over. And yet, they are all half-baked.

It’s a shame that Bright doesn’t live up to its full potential. As mentioned earlier, this movie remains decent enough. Hopefully, the sequel manages to do better in the future.

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