For quite some time I have eagerly anticipated Bright, a Netflix original that was released last Friday, 22 December. It is an urban fantasy police thriller comedy/drama (yes, quite a blend of genres) about two Los Angeles police officers – human Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and orc Officer Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) – who stumble upon a renegade elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry), who possesses a powerful magic wand. The officers get swept up in a turf war as different organizations and gangs fight over control of the wand, most notably the villainous elf cultist Leilah (Noomi Rapace). This review does not contain any spoilers.
If you want the very, very basic summary of the movie, imagine the R-rated version of Disney’s Zootopia, with an orc joining an all-human LAPD instead of a rabbit joining the Zootopia Police Department. The plots and premises of the two movies are very similar. Now, on to the detailed review.
The interplay between the two main characters in Bright is very well written, with great moments of both comedy and sincerity. Officer Ward, who is already on bad terms with the rest of the LAPD, is forced against his wishes to work with the newly recruited Officer Jakoby. Ward does not trust Jakoby from the get-go, as Jakoby is an orc. Ward asks Jakoby early on, “I need to know. Are you a cop first, or an orc first?” Jakoby tries at every opportunity to prove to Ward and to the other officers that he is trustworthy and honest, but after Ward is shot by another orc while Jakoby was buying Ward a burrito, it proves incredibly hard for Jakoby to earn Ward’s trust again. (No, that was not a spoiler. It happens in the first 5 minutes of the film.) As Jakoby and Ward interact and slowly reestablish trust over the course of the movie, there are many profound moments and just as many of witty banter.
Another one of the great strengths of this film is the time and care that went into making the sets. The attention to detail is stunning. From graffiti on the walls to miscellaneous items strewn around the tables and shelves of various warehouses, there were dozens if not hundreds of subtly placed items or drawings that I suspect contain easter eggs or references to other films. So much care was given to the sets that if I hadn’t liked the rest of the movie, I still would have enjoyed watching it just for that.
The plot itself is easy to follow, but leaves several questions unanswered. Ward, Jakoby, and Tikka try to prevent Leilah from acquiring the magic wand, because apparently once she has it she will be able to summon “the Dark One”. Who is the Dark One? We never really learn much about him/her/it at all. Apparently, two thousand years ago, the Dark One possessed the hearts of all orcs and made them savagely attack humans and elves. And it seems that many orcs still retain these tendencies, two thousand years later. But over the course of the entire movie we really do not learn very much about the nature of this Dark One, which is a little bit of a letdown. Still, the classic MacGuffin plot arc is executed relatively well. I will say that there was a surprise twist at the end that I saw coming from a mile away. I don’t know if it was just me, but the plot twist was so obvious that it really was not a twist. That didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story, but it didn’t make the movie, either.
There was one shocking plot twist before the climax that I didn’t see coming at all. And I think it was brilliant. I can’t say more without spoilers, but suffice to say that I was shocked by this turn of events and it did make the movie stronger as a whole.
Too Much Language
Now it’s time to talk about the film’s shortcomings. There is an abundance of language throughout the movie, and a brief scene with nudity. Both of these elements are completely unnecessary for the film. A little bit of language sprinkled throughout was to be expected, but in my opinion the language was far more frequent than it needed to be. The film easily could have remained PG-13 but instead is clearly R-rated, and I don’t think the plot really calls for that.
Lack of Character Development
Yes, the characters are dynamic and entertaining, I’ll give them that. But over the course of the movie, Officer Jakoby is the only character who undergoes significant growth. The other characters, especially Officer Ward and Tikka, could have grown over the course of the film, but remain relatively unchanging throughout the story. Additionally, the villainous Leilah really is not developed enough. She is a very one-dimensional villain with no development and little explanation. A protagonist is all the better for having a compelling and interesting antagonist, and unfortunately Leilah just doesn’t deliver in that respect.
Fails to Address Racial Tension Adequately
The Mexican-American gangsters featured in the film are portrayed in a pretty one-dimensional light. I think that this stereotyping could and should have been avoided, especially considering that one of the film’s main themes is racial tension.
Speaking of racial tension, that theme is abundantly clear in the beginning of the film. The tension between humans, orcs, and elves is blatantly obvious early on. However, over the course of the movie the plot veers away from race to focus solely on the magic wand. The movie attempts to make commentary on racial tension and attempts to show that multiple species can work together, as the three main characters are human, orc, and elf. However, this message gets lost over the course of the film as the entire focus of the story shifts to focus on the magic wand.
Finally, the world that is built over the course of the film is a bit tangled and seems inconsistent. This in itself is not a major weakness; there are no glaring plot holes, only inconsistencies within the world itself. For example, one scene takes place in an old church, so we know that Christianity exists in this fictional world… but how does that affect the Dark One? Is the Dark One Satan, or a friend or subordinate of him? Or are the two unrelated? Another scene shows a dragon flying over Los Angeles. Dragons never make a prominent appearance in the film, leaving the audience to wonder if dragons are peaceful animals, or if this one just happened to be uninterested in terrorizing the city. Oh, and are they intelligent or are they just flying beasts? We also learn that the battle of the Alamo still occurred in this world. Did orcs and elves play into that at all? How much of human history is the same in this fictional world, and how much is altered by the presence of other species?
These details do not weaken the movie itself, but they do make the world a bit jumbled and confusing. I think more of these questions would be answered if Netflix were to produce a sequel (which I say hesitantly. I enjoyed Bright, but I think it would be monumentally difficult to write a good sequel. I think this one should stand on its own).
Overall, Bright was a fun, fast-paced movie that had an interesting plot and entertaining characters. It fails to grasp any deeper meaning or truth, even though it tries to point toward interracial peace and cooperation. If you choose to watch this film, do not watch it for the deeper meaning that it tries to represent, but watch it because you want to see a unique police thriller with fantasy characters. Overall I rate Bright 6 out of 10.
Did you watch Bright? What were your thoughts/feelings on the film? Comment below and let me know!