Flashback – ‘Bright’ MOVIE REVIEW: Netflix’s Gritty Action-Fantasy Fairytale is Highly Entertaining

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Image credit: Matt Kennedy / Netflix

[This is a repost of our 2017 review]

In an alternate universe where orcs, elves, fairies and other mythical creatures exist alongside humans, L.A.P.D. Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) returns to work after a shooting incident in which he was injured. He is partnered with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the department’s first and only orc police officer. Jakoby is unpopular across the board. His fellow officers despise him for his difference and his own people hate him because he is unblooded and thus not affiliated with any orc clan.

Ward and Jakoby are called to a run-down house that turns out to be a heavily armed hideout for young elvish girl Tikka (Lucy Fry), who is in possession of a magic wand. These magic wands grant their owners great power, but most mortal beings suffer death if attempting to even touch them. Wands, we learn, can only be wielded by those known as ‘brights’.

Nevertheless, this does not stop everyone wanting to possess the wand, from the local gangsters, to corrupt cops and federal agents, to the wand’s original owner, Leilah (Noomi Rapace), who wishes to use it to summon The Dark Lord and subjugate mankind. When events rapidly go south, Ward, Jakoby and Tikka go on the run with the wand.

Image credit: Matt Kennedy / Netflix

Director David Ayer follows up last year’s much-maligned Suicide Squad with Bright, the latest big-budget offering from Netflix. Despite the fantasy elements and magical concepts, Bright actually has much in common with Ayer’s excellent cinéma verite-styled cop movie End Of Watch, as Ward and Jakoby ride around on patrol and banter with each other, before getting right up close amongst the action when the bullets (and magic) start to fly.

The most immediate thing that comes to mind when watching Bright is its conceptual similarity to Graham Baker’s alien/cop buddy movie Alien Nation, which is itself an underrated piece of sci-fi social commentary. But beyond that, Bright has fleshed out its universe very nicely indeed. The orcs are something of an underclass, with reference made to their choosing the wrong side thousands of years ago, a decision they have been paying for ever since. Fairies are pests to be exterminated, and there’s even an excellent centaur police officer present at one point. The elves are the super-rich, with their own town, glittering skyscrapers and high-end boutiques. Their appearance looking like a modern update of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien interpretation, and Elf Town as a cross between Rivendell and Beverly Hills.

The effects and makeup work used to craft this universe are fantastic, as you would expect from a team under the stewardship of special effect legends Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. And in a nice slice of irony, the two also worked for Stan Winston Studios on Alien Nation in 1988. Beyond that, there is a team of very talented effects people from Studio ADI, who were initially missed off the credits of the movie, but have now been given their deserved recognition from a contrite Netflix.

Image credit: Matt Kennedy / Netflix

As far as the performances go, Will Smith is Will Smith, and you either like that or you don’t, but at least in Bright he dials things back considerably and is pretty good, delivering an understated and likeable performance. Edgerton is excellent as always, managing to make Nick Jakoby a real and believable character thanks to strong acting from underneath the heavy prosthetic makeup. Fry is weirdly enigmatic as Tikka, although it does mean that for the first half of the movie she is little more than a plot device to get Smith and Edgerton running around to different locales. Rapace, however, was born to play a homicidally nimble elf. She brings an icy elegance to Leilah and makes for an excellent villain. If anything, Bright could have done with a little bit more of her unstoppable elvish intensity.

The internet would have you believe that Bright is one giant Christmas turkey, which is surprising considering the recent praise lavished on more mediocre Netflix fare such as Gerald’s Game or The Babysitter. Why Bright should become the focus of this ire is anyone’s guess, although the criticisms of it being heavy handed in its approach to racial issues and bigotry are worth addressing.

The many fantastical races present in this universe gives Bright ample scope to comment on modern prejudice. In Jakoby we have a character hated by all sides, and thus he serves as a perfect vehicle with which to make a point or two. As far as the accusations that Bright‘s treatment of racial issues is heavy handed, it’s certainly a thought that might occur initially. However, it might also be possible that audiences are no longer used to fantasy and science fiction dealing with weighty subjects in such a manner, and this is simply a reaction to there being any message here at all. Remove the fantastical elements from the plot, substitute the orcs and elves and fairies for the human beings of different races and ethnicities it is actually alluding to, and Bright might well be considered gritty and/or realistic. The fact is, these fantastical and mythical elements jar against serious topics, and while they are certainly not understated, Bright is no more heavy-handed than District 9, which had a similarly integrated alien race serve up racial parallels and harsh lessons in bigotry. In fact, as explicit as Bright‘s messages are, it is far less manipulative than similarly themed, cloying Oscar-bait like Crash.

Image credit: Matt Kennedy / Netflix

As for the many detractors online, it’s hard to fathom what people expected from an orc/cop buddy movie that pretty much serves up everything the trailer suggested it would. If the concept does not appeal right off the bat, then Bright is definitely not the movie for you.

Bright is not perfect, however. There are times when the banter is a little off and yet more times where the jokes fall flat, where the script gives the impression of being rushed out just before they’d had time to finalise any great pay-off lines. And out of necessity, the dialogue is, at times, heavy on the exposition. There is also an exceedingly ill-judged final monologue from Edgerton, which opts for comedy at the expense of character believability.

Still, even though Bright has its flaws, it is a much, much better movie than the naysayers would have you believe. It’s a nicely realised fantasy universe with an intriguing idea and a depth to it that begs for further exploration. Ayer’s gritty style drags these traditionally fairytale creatures into the grime and filth of modern-day Los Angeles, and it works. Clearly, it’s not a movie that will resonate with everybody, but those who are prepared to give it a chance will find Bright to be well intentioned and solidly entertaining.

SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆

‘Bright’ can be seen on Netflix right HERE.

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