Review: ‘Bright’ Is A Dim, Ugly Mess

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Bright, the big-budget Netflix action-fantasy film that teams up Will Smith with an Orc.

Much like how I had no pleasure watching Bright, I equally get no pleasure from coming down hard on it here. This is like someone saw an amateur YouTube filmmaker’s “what if” concept of the show Cops set in a world where fantasy creatures existed and they went on to make the most hard-hitting, full-length cinematic version of that possible. I’m all for Netflix willingness to step up and produce a big budget action fantasy film, but some serious work needs to be done in harnessing the supposed strengths of the visionaries involved. What could have worked as an interesting social commentary put through the filter of genre entertainment comes off as an ugly mess of a movie that lacks in all the areas needed for this to work. And yet, Bright will still frustratingly be considered “good enough” by the masses who watch it from the comfort of their homes and smartphones.

I suppose that last point is what matters. In an era where Adam Sandler currently reigns as a Netflix ratings champ, having found a home for his more recent disposable comedy efforts (yet he’s terrific in Noah Baumbach’s Meyerwitz Stories), Bright seems like the film I would expect. If it’s not a heavy drama or indie comedy acquired from a film festival, it seems the company’s strategy admirably finds creative talent given the budget and freedom needed to realize their visions. We can talk a lot about the harm caused by certain studios when it comes to reshoots and edited versions of films, but when it doesn’t concern huge movies where those stories will easily make headlines, it generally shows how much of a collaborative process filmmaking is and how there are producers who know a thing or two about development. Bright feels like the best example of Netflix’s current shortcoming in regards to their original content.

Not everything can be an instant, well-regarded success like Stranger Things. Some of the bright ideas hatched by creative folks end up feeling like first drafts that really could have used more workshopping and other advice offered by traditional studios. Abrasive personality aside, I can admire a lot of what screenwriter Max Landis has gone for in his work. Bright is conceptually a neat idea. The film presents an alternate reality where humans and fantasy creatures have co-existed since the beginning of time, and yet we still get a modern day Los Angeles that’s largely what it looks like now, save for a few new districts and pest problems that come in the form of fairies. There’s some obvious thematic work here involving racism, social justice and more, which is fitting for any heavy genre movie.

Sadly, whether it’s the undeveloped ideas stemming from the very conventional “chosen one meets buddy cop comedy” narrative or the direction from David Ayer, which really seems like him parodying himself to the point of riffing on a significant moment from Training Day (which he wrote), nothing in this film comes together. A reported $90 million was spent on the making of this film, and while the orc and elf designs look good enough, it seems like the money went to making a fantastical element ingrained into the modern day world so it could look as cheap as Ayer’s Harsh Times. Bright is a film with as many muddy visuals as Ayer’s Suicide Squad, with similarly bland and repetitive action.

Perhaps this could all be pushed aside if the buddy cop movie element worked, but that sadly also comes up lacking. Will Smith and an incredibly game Joel Edgerton star as cops Daryl Ward and Nick Jakoby. Ward is a seasoned officer who mixes a no-nonsense attitude with the charisma of a typical Will Smith character. Jakoby is the first Orc cop who is an outcast among the other officers as well as his kind. The plot surrounds these two stumbling upon a murder scene with a magic wand and a young elf (Lucy Fry) at the center of it. The cops find themselves tasked with protecting the wand and the elf while evading dirty cops, gang bangers, other orcs and dark elves.

Watching this film, I could see why Smith keeps backing away from Bad Boys 3. He’s clearly tired of playing this type of role. The megastar is at a point where he can do more exciting things and seeing him saddled with another bickering cop role where the F-word regularly roles off his tongue just feels boring. The quips come fast and furious, and Edgerton does a lot with his dryly humorous and sympathetic edge to keep up with Smith, but it’s clearly a role made to coast on and not to challenge.

As for the rest of the film, at two hours, Bright is a long slog to get to the end. The action scenes rarely feel exciting, and the world-building stops being interesting once the opening credits come to an end. I’m good enough on not nitpicking how a society like this would function because I can just accept the movie being what it is, but it is strange to see the film so actively fight against digging a bit deeper. Beyond some hokey material involving Orc traditions and evil elf lords, Bright feels like it has enough confidence doing very little, aside from showing some easy visual manipulation of LA graffiti. That’s a shame because I would have liked to hear anything of interest from Edgar Ramirez’s well-dressed elf who works in the magic division at the FBI.

Reportedly Netflix has an upcoming film based on an idea pushed forward by Twitter. It’s a heist buddy team up of Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o, written by Insecure’s Issa Rae and directed by Ava DuVernay. It sounds ridiculous, but the four are all down for this concept. I can only hope that goes better than anything seen in Bright, which feels like it was inspired in similar ways but resulted in a waste of time. A big-budget seems to do nothing for Ayer, who has yet to put together something as brilliant as End of Watch (Fury at least had great action). Landis still seems to have ways to go in fully realizing his visions for interesting mashups that could lead to more interesting blockbuster material. Of course, all of this matters little, because a sequel was announced right as I finished writing this review. It’s up to the viewers to see if “barely holds together” is good enough for the time spent half paying attention to a dull movie like this on a couch or their phone.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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