Last week I reviewed “Black Panther,” a film that explored complex issues regarding race in a way that was both deeply explored and entertaining and provided the benchmark for storytelling on the subject from here on out. Before that, the Netflix film “Bright” starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton and directed by David Ayer attempted the same thing regarding race relations within the U.S., particularly the role of police in that issue. It failed miserably.
With a production cost of $90 million, the film was Netflix’s most expensive to date and premiered in January with anticipation given a heavy marketing push especially focusing on having a star like Will Smith at the helm. Even his solid performance couldn’t make up for a muddled plot and a wasted premise.
The film centers around seasoned veteran police officer Daryl Ward, played by Smith, who is partnered with the first Orc cop in LAPD history, played by Edgerton. You read that right, an orc. “Bright” is set in a world that includes mythical creatures like orcs, centaurs and elves. There is an uneasy relationship between the mythical creatures and humans due to thousands of years of war between. This is where the film attempts to explore the elements of race in real world America.
Orcs are largely viewed as minorities and are discriminated against. It is a not-so-subtle allegory for orcs being African-Americans. So when the first orc cop is introduced to the police force, it brings up an internal struggle with Ward and the orc of balancing one’s identity with their duty.
Sounds promising right? The problem is the depth of this struggle and the exploration of race relations ends right there. Orcs representing African-Americans is the only card the movie plays to deal with the issues it attempts to explore and the problem with exploring an issue is you actually have to explore it.
Instead, the movie dives headfirst into its plot filled with buddy cop clichés and fantasy tropes that have already been explored countless times in the genre. Ward and Jakoby, the orc, find an elf in possession of a wand that has nuclear capabilities and sought after a group that wants to use it to raise an evil mythical creature to take over the world.
While the action is certainly entertaining, the plot offers nothing original and therefore nothing particularly attention-grabbing with clichés of the two estranged partners slowly forming a bond, a character sacrificing themselves for the greater good only to be revived and other contrived ploys.
The cast performances save this movie and places it atop the mediocrity mountain for 2018 so far. Edgerton’s performance does bring some of the gravity the film was clearly trying to reach with its premise of the internal struggle of dealing with race and prosecuting your own and fighting off prejudice at the same time.
Ultimately, “Bright” is a movie that tries hard to have a significant and culturally-relevant core message but gets lost in its desire to double as a cop action movie. Its plot, while muddled and cliché, is entertaining enough but the film’s inability to decide what it truly is, a movie that pokes fun at itself or a film that has significant deeper meaning, lands it squarely in the middle of good and bad.