Bright is one of the biggest and most important Netflix releases to date. Featuring a mega star in Will Smith, an accomplished director in David Ayer, and a reported $90 million dollar budget, the big question facing Bright is whether it can succeed in providing a blockbuster theatrical experience from the comfort of your couch. The short answer to this question is, yes. Bright is an urban action-fantasy-crime film that looks and feels like it fits alongside some of the year’s biggest studio releases. While the film has several flaws and doesn’t come anywhere close to being as good as Netflix’s other big 2017 release, the Oscar-worthy Mudbound, Bright is further proof that the streaming giant is just as capable of providing compelling theatrical experiences as their major studio competitors.
Set in an alternate 2017 Los Angeles where humans, elves, orcs and fairies have been struggling to coexist for centuries, the film follows two cops who have been assigned to each other as partners. Ward, a human (Will Smith) and Jakoby, an orc (Joel Edgerton), find themselves in deep water after a routine call puts them face to face with runaway elf Tikka (Lucy Fry) who is in possession of a powerful magic wand that could destroy the world as we know it. The two cops are forced to put aside their differences to protect the young elf and keep the wand out of the hands of crooked cops, gangs (both human and orc), and the Inferni, a group of renegade elves.
The idea of a fantasy world where humans, orc, elves and fairies coexist in a modern setting was something I really enjoyed, and to my memory something that hasn’t really been done before. There’s an enjoyably gritty feel to the setting and I appreciated the attention to detail in building a believable, though fantastical universe around what is essentially a pretty standard buddy cop story. The film starts with a trip through the different sections of the city and gives you an idea of the segregation and racial tension between the opposing groups. The makeup, set design, and special effects are all top notch and contribute to the film’s sense of scale. Director David Ayer (Training Day, Suicide Squad) has created a believable world with social and racial tension that parallels that of today’s society.
The films central focus is on the dynamic between the two lead characters Ward and Jakoby. Jakoby, the orc, is the first non-human police officer in the LAPD and finds himself placed with a reluctant Ward. Ward at first tries to have Jakoby removed from his car after facing immense pressure from the rest of the force but as the two partners face adversity in life and death situations, they begin to form a bond through mutual respect and eventually become friends. There is some pretty good chemistry between the two lead actors, with Edgerton’s Jakoby reminding me a little of Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy series. His dry sense of humor, awkwardness and blunt way of speaking to Ward adds some comedic elements that help break up the tension between the two partners. Likewise, Will Smith is great as a straightforward LAPD officer, and his star power helps elevate the film as a whole. I found myself wondering if I would have been as interested in this film had Smith not been involved. While Edgerton’s performance isn’t poor by any means, it’s Smith that carries this film. David Ayer has a history of creating compelling relationships between partners, as seen in his previous works such as Training Day and End of Watch and Bright fits in right alongside his oeuvre of law enforcement films.
On the other hand, Bright’s story — which revolves around keeping the aforementioned wand out of the hands of those who crave its power for evil purposes — is a bit of a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the concept of a forgotten ancient artifact that could grant you anything you’ve ever wanted and destroy anyone who opposes you, I would have liked to have seen it put to use a little more. Aside from a few scenes where it’s used as a weapon to incinerate foes, we only get a tease of the wand’s magical powers when it’s used to bring someone back to life. The story also wraps up kind of abruptly and was for the most part unsatisfying. The coming of the “Dark Lord” is referenced throughout the film and the build up to his appearance is so protracted, I found myself checking my watch around the 90 minute mark and wondering how they were possibly going to wrap this all up within the 117 minute run time. Unfortunately, that resolution never really comes, resulting in a film that feels unfinished, unsatisfying, and devoid of a proper villain.
Despite the film’s shortcomings and disappointing ending, Bright features an interesting universe and setting, as well as a great performance from one of the world’s biggest stars in Will Smith. With the success of films like Mudbound and the scale of Bright’s production, Netflix is on the path to becoming a movie-making powerhouse that can stand alongside the best of them.