“Bright” is a film directed by David Ayer (“Suicide Squad”) and written by Max Landis (“American Ultra”). Anyone who has seen the work of either of the two will surely have an idea of what they will get with “Bright.” “Suicide Squad” was one of the ugliest and worst shot movies of 2015. “Bright” easily takes the cake for 2017. Subtlety is neither the writer nor the director’s strong suit. A Netflix release, “Bright” hits the audience over the head so hard with its message that some might actually feel concussed after the watching the film. Thank heavens no one will ever have to see this on the big screen.
Will Smith (“Suicide Squad”) and Joel Edgerton (“Loving”) are two cops butting heads, but with a twist. Edgerton is an Orc. In the world of “Bright,” humans and elves fought side by side millennia ago against The Dark Lord and his army of Orcs. Ever since the humans won the final battle, Orcs have been seen as second-class citizens. “Bright” makes sure that the parallel between human/Orc tensions and racial tensions in the real world are as clear as possible, even if the analogy doesn’t hold up upon much thought. It’s a strange thing to compare racism in America to divisions between a fantasy society wherein the different citizenry groups are literally different species, leaving the movie filled with ambiguous metaphor that is at times clever and at other times horribly tone deaf (one example is an off handed mention that Orcs have terrible verticals, and thus are terrible at basketball). The social commentary is misguided and mishandled.
The world set up in “Bright” is one that actually has potential, albeit for a different movie. A world where fantasy elements such as Orcs, elves and magic wands are treated with complete seriousness, and “The Lord of the Rings” is basically ancient history, is an interesting concept that is totally wasted on a generic buddy cop story. The way magic wands are treated like nuclear weapons, and the idea of a United States Magic Bureau are fun ideas, but nothing interesting is done with them.
To that end, “Bright” feels more like an extended TV pilot than it does a feature film. There are a multitude of side characters, shadowy figures and organizations that are given only lip service here, with the clear implication being that they will get more development in a sequel or sequels down the line. One wonders if it would’ve been more interesting to take this idea and turn it into a Netflix miniseries à la “Stranger Things” rather than a Netflix movie. “Bright” has gotten a lot of flack on the internet and has been labeled by some critics as the worst movie of the year. That’s hyperbole for what, at the end of the day, is really just a generic action movie with some fantasy elements thrown in, but it speaks to the growing critical internet subculture that either aggressively praises or skewers films completely, giving almost no room for middle ground.
“Bright” is bad. It is not abhorrently bad. It is not an affront to viewer’s intelligence or an insult to cinema. It is just a bad movie. The kind of bad movie that, given time, could find a future as some kind of cult classic. It’s weird, and it has got some interesting ideas floating around in it. The execution is pretty much a disaster across the board, but it is hard not to feel like there was something cool in there somewhere. If you look at “Bright” and squint really hard, you can almost see the blockbuster fantasy franchise Netflix is hoping to create. Almost.