Bright is a film that seems like an anomaly, because if you asked me to pick a big budget, high stakes project to risk over 90 million dollars on, it certainly wouldn’t be a genre mash-up, and certainly not a mash-up of a buddy cop movie, with a Lord Of The Rings-style high fantasy film; orcs, dragons, fairies and all. It’s not an entirely a new idea to blend buddy cop movies with elements of the supernatural, but past attempts like 1988’s Dead Heat, a Joe Piscopo vehicle, were notable failures. Despite that, it and others like it have their place amongst other then-unsuccessful cum cult favorites.
The other thing that Bright has going for it is its questionable pedigree, which is either good or terrible depending on who you ask and what about. Is it a good Will Smith movie? Is it a good Max Landis (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) script? Is it a good cop movie? Is it a good fantasy movie? Is it a good David Ayer film? Well, all of these questions have answers and I’ll try to answer all of them in the order of what’s most to least interesting.
Firstly, there’s Max Landis’ script, or more accurately, what’s left of it. Every script goes through a truly transformative process once it’s sold, and unless the original writer has direct creative control, chances are almost every script gets mangled by those working on it as a job. To me, this explains why some Landis scripts are excellent in execution when finished, like Chronicle, Dirk Gently, or American Ultra. Whereas other scripts of his end up becoming unrecognizable, and without the strong vision or ability to course correct, they end up becoming huge messes, like Victor Frankenstein. That being said, the idea isn’t isn’t actually that bad. I can see how Landis thought this would work, but I’m unsure the specific vision he had because Bright is a distinct merging of genres brought to you by David Ayer. Now I’m not a hater of Mr. Ayer’s work, but I did have eyes and watch Suicide Squad last year, and I’m still unhappy about it. However, Ayer did make the underrated End of Watch, which makes Bright look like it’s the SNL parody version of End of Watch, which in response seems so densely meta that it threatens to break my sense of reasonable creative attribution in a recursive feedback loop so strong, that it doesn’t end until I have a brain aneurysm and die.
But the movie! The movie itself, that’s the thing that actually matters. The opening sequence shows the potential of the idea, and whether it immediately strikes a chord with you or not, is most likely indicative if this movie is something you’ll enjoy. There is a message here about the broader themes it’s touching on, rather than your 1:1 Black Lives Matter, obvious political allegory. There’s a commentary about societal structure, and how that engenders and fosters racism and tribalism amongst a populace, even a fantasy one with orcs and fairies in it. It’s an idea that’s worth exploring more if it weren’t for the dismissive preconceptions people have of political and societal allegories, but I digress. The film quickly picks up with the racial tension falling by the wayside, as background fodder, to give way to the character development of the two main leads.
As a Will Smith movie, it’s his best film since his pre-2000 heydey. The performance he gives is classic Will Smith and its relieving to see him return to comedy and not show any rust when it comes to timing. It’s also notable that if his role was played by someone else, it could easily turn sour and become a quintessentially problematic character. Thankfully, Smith pulls it all off with gusto and is complemented perfectly by Joel Edgerton as Jakoby, the Orkish police officer, and partner to Smith’s character Ward. Edgerton manages to steal many scenes, both as a dramatically viable protagonist and occasional comic relief. There’s a sincerity and care taken for the characters that elevate the jokes in the film above your average Geico Caveman gag, but the comparison isn’t too far off. The main difference being that Bright finds a balance that’ll divide many on whether it works or not.
Lastly, the ultimate saving grace here is the writing and directing combination on display. The dialogue is snappy and genuinely works well, and as mentioned before, Will Smith really carries a character that could easily become grating if done improperly. Definitely at its best when it’s playing up its comedy side, but as an example of its dramatic poise and proof of concept-I have to admit- it is genuinely inspired to make what’s basically a present-day sequel to Lord Of The Rings. Only now it’s a racial satire. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in a Jack Kirby Movie Universe if only something like that existed. On top of that, casually surreal sights like police centaurs, magically charred skeletal remains, and dragons flying in the moonlight are plentiful and some of the best parts of the film. I imagine a lot of people will heavily criticize this film, but any fan of genre fiction who just want to see a neat spin on a cop movie will find a lot to like here. It’s not an ultra innovative blockbuster, but it’s not trying to be. It’s trying to be a cop movie you’ve seen before, but you know, with magical stuff. It’s not perfect, but it’s a far cry from the worst Netflix has to offer.
GEEK Grade: B