“Bright” is not very bright. Part crime drama, part magical fantasy, the concept is ridiculously dumb. The movie, however, is fun, fresh, and surprisingly arresting.
In “Bright,” director David Ayer combines his penchant for gritty street stories—see “Training Day,” “End of Watch,” and “Sabotage”—with his more recent (and disastrous) dabble in superpower-wielding fiction, “Suicide Squad.”
Whether the many, many problems with “Suicide Squad” were the result of Ayer or the studio—likely the latter—the director did take two learnings from the experience: Return to one’s roots, and take Will Smith with you.
Smith plays Daryl Ward, an aging LAPD officer who’d rather be a retiree. He instead gets a rookie, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first orc—you know, like “Lord of the Rings” orc—to join the City of Angels’ police force.
The closest we’ve come to seeing something like “Bright” on the screen—the TV screen, being the latest in Netflix’s no-theater movie lineup—is the “X-Files” entertaining exercise with “Cops.” But that was a purposeful breaking-of-the-fourth-wall genre mashup, heavy on the light comedy. “Bright,” on the other hand, is quite serious—and dark.
Although some pertinent social issues are swatted away rather swiftly—“fairy lives don’t matter”—others remain an underlying theme throughout, chiefly police corruption and prejudice, both Ayer staples.
“Bright” also provides somewhat of a role reversal for Smith, who in past performances was often paired with more-established costars. In “Bright,” it’s Edgerton’s Jakoby who echoes Smith’s less-experienced characters of old. And whether it’s his makeup, age, or both, Smith has the veteran look; it’s hard to believe the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is just shy of 50 by a hair. And yet, Smith shines in “Bright,” bringing youthful intensity reminiscent of his scene-stealing in “Independence Day” and scene-saving in “I, Robot.” Even amid such absurdity, Smith always delivers. And that’s needed in “Bright.”
When Ward and Jakoby aren’t wrestling with societal rights and wrongs, they’re chasing wands—Leilah’s (Noomi Rapace). The evil elf’s equivalent of a .44 is sought by corrupt cops, gangs, and traitorous Tikka (Lucy Fry), creating a quest typical of Middle Earth that instead takes place in the inner city, Ayer’s cinematic playground.
Ayer certainly knows how to immerse audiences in seemingly “everyday” police and gang life; “Bright” shows he also has a Guillermo del Toro-type flair for orcs and elves. And the action in “Bright” is awesome, weaving in the fantastical while never sacrificing the serious—a relief, given many properties’ present tendencies to undermine their earnestness.
Where “Bright” is a bit dull is in the writing. Ayer has a proclivity to try to overdramatize the already overly dramatic. And he does so with misplaced verbosity. It’s like his dining-table scene in “Fury”—no matter how much Ayer tries to force it with ostentatious dialogue, the direness just doesn’t feel that deep. And in “Bright,” his attempts to fill such voids with flashbacks don’t help.
Still, “Bright” has flashes of promise that make Netflix viewing or a one-month Netflix subscription worthwhile. If you don’t like it, you can always watch other stranger things.
4 out of 5