Review: Bright

Netflix’s urban fantasy Bright is a movie that combines two things I almost always like: Elves, and Will Smith, who is one of my favourite actors.

Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as Officers Ward and Jakoby in BrightMind you, I don’t think he’s a brilliant actor or anything, but he’s very charismatic, and he’s very hard not to like.

So his involvement plus the subject matter was enough to make me want to give Bright a try.

Described as “Lord of the Rings meets Training Day,” Bright is an action-packed cop movie set in an alternate version of the modern day where all of the fantasy races are real and co-exist, though not always peacefully.

It has a difficult tightrope to walk in that it has to dump a great deal of world-building on the viewer without slowing the movie down too much. I’d say it did a respectable job of that, though a little patience may be required.

It’s aided by some impressive visual story-telling. There’s an incredible eye for detail, with the background of nearly every shot filled with graffiti and signage unique to this bizarre modern fantasy world, and the make-up for the non-human races is fantastic. I particularly liked the sharp teeth of the Elves, a subtle hint that beneath their beauty they are a hard and dangerous people.

Smith plays Daryl Ward, an embittered cop assigned to be the partner of Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first Orcish police officer in United States history. There’s great tension between the two due to a past incident where Ward was nearly killed, as well as a healthy dose of racism.

Nothing like an Orc with a BFGThere’s a great deal of very thinly veiled social commentary in this movie, with Orcs serving as stand-ins for real life minorities. The Elves, meanwhile, are effectively the 1%, and humans serve as a middle class.

I have mixed feelings on Bright’s handling of racial politics.

On the upside, it does feel — to me, as an outsider on the issue — like a realistic portrayal of racism, despite the fantastic trappings. Often the media tends to sugar coat racism, showing it as bad but in a distant and sanitized sort of way. Bright pulls no punches in depicting the utter cruelty with which Jakoby and his people are treated.

On the other hand, the Orc racism ends up being almost totally irrelevant to the main plot of the movie, which prevents any really good points from being made and makes the whole film feel a bit unfocused.

The actual story sees Ward and Jakoby run afoul of a group of Elven terrorists who are hunting for a magical wand and its owner, a troubled Elven woman named Tikka (Lucy Fry).

In this setting, magic exists, but is rarely seen. Wands are tightly controlled by the government, and they can only be wielded by a rare individual with magical talent: a Bright.

Noomi Rapace as Elven extremist Leilah in BrightMost of the movie takes the form of an extended action/chase sequences as Ward, Jakoby, and Tikka attempt to stay alive and keep the wand safe from its many pursuers: Elven terrorists, Orcish gangsters, human street thugs, and more.

Despite the fantastic elements, this is actually a fairly ordinary story. Bar the magic-laden climax, this really could have been any other cop movie. There’s potential for real originality here, but it’s unrealized.

Still, as action movies go, it’s decent. There are certainly worse ways to spend an evening.

My biggest complaint would be how under-utilized Lucy Fry’s Tikka is. She puts on by far the best performance of the movie, infusing every word and movement with an alien grace that truly sells her as something more than human, but she spends most of Bright just sitting there looking scared. It’s a waste.

Show of hands: Who’s surprised I wanted to see more of the Elf?

No one?

Didn’t think so.

Lucy Fry as troubled Elven renegade Tikka in BrightJakoby and Ward, by comparison, are just okay. Their rivalry feels a bit forced, as do all their interactions, but they serve their purpose, I suppose. Smith’s aforementioned charisma is the only thing making Ward bearable, as he’s actually kind of a douchebag when you get down to it.

So Bright is a bit inconsistent, and it doesn’t fully utilize the uniqueness of its setting nor its characters, but it manages to provide a mostly satisfying ride all the same.

Overall rating: 7.3/10 If the sequel gets made, I’ll watch it.