Over the last few years, Netflix has been expanding its original content and sinking huge amounts of cash into movies and series. Some of these have been very effective, and met with critical acclaim: Daredevil and Jessica Jones immediately come to mind. Both of those series demonstrate how Netflix has grown as an original developer; taking, for example, the Marvel universe, and working with it in a way that wouldn’t be possible on the big screen. But Netflix isn’t just working on serials, and Bright is one of their larger-budget movie projects of late.
According to Wikipedia, Bright is “an urban fantasy action crime film”. Yeah, that’s now a movie genre, and in fairness it pretty much sums up Bright. Set in an alternate universe, where fantasy races coexist with humans, Bright is the story of Daryl Ward: an LAPD officer partnered with the world’s first orc police officer, Nik Jakoby. Ward has already been in the crosshairs of the orkish community – being gunned down by an activist, in circumstances that suggest Jakoby might’ve been complicit. Ward and Jakoby become entwined in a conspiracy to obtain a magic wand (described as a “nuclear weapon that grants wishes”), and soon find that they are being pursued across LA by elves, orcs and humans…
Bright was released just before Christmas 2017, and I know I’m late to the party with this review. I watched the film very much aware of the negative reviews that Bright had generated, and the rather unfortunate accolade of being “worst film of the year”.
First up, this is a pretty unfair label. Bright has its faults, sure, but it most certainly is not the worst movie of the year. In fact, it’s a very entertaining watch, with an intriguing premise, and some interesting characterisation. That’s not to say that Bright doesn’t have its faults – the film is extremely on the nose so far as its analogy between fantasy and modern-day discrimination is concerned – but these are far outweighed by the film’s successes.
Will Smith is good as Daryl Ward. He does the Will Smith thing that he always does, and he has that down: he’s the leading man. Joel Eggerton’s Jakoby, meanwhile, is a really engaging character. He has bad blood – being an orc, he is of a species that is encouraged to place racial loyalty above all else. But he wants to do good, and that presents him with some interesting choices during the film. The film refers to an ancient decision by the orcs to side with the dark lord; an element that is surely going to be explored in Bright’s sequel… Noomi Rappace seems to revel in her role as an evil elf, and the film’s depiction of the elven community is great to see (their moneyed commune, with elven versions of Verace and Gucci, is a fascinating concept).
The film’s effects, as you’d probably expect, are very impressive. The backdrops of a fantasy LA have loads of little details that drag you in. Did you see the dragon, flying over the LA skyline? Or the centaur outside of police precinct? The set designs were reminiscent of Elysium, I felt, but this is no bad thing. This is a grungy, used future; a very long way from any sort of traditional fantasy…
Some of the film’s messages are a bit on the nose. I get that this will put many viewers off, and it seems to have been a major complaint from critics. The film drips in this sort of detail: the gangsta orcs, the clan communities, the graffiti. There are a couple of plot points that also irked me, but overall these were minor issues.
Bright really isn’t as bad as people are saying. If you’ve got a couple of hours spare, you can do a lot worse than spending it in the grubby, dark fantasy universe of this alternate LA.