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Most reviews of Bright are extraordinarily dismissive. I’ll try to explain why this is not the worst movie ever.
A few misconceptions first. Orcs are not simply stand-ins for African Americans like a lot of people have said – it’s a little more nuanced than that (one character casually tells us that his ancestors killed orcs by the thousands in Russia- does this remind you of anything?).
Magic is part of the premise of this world, but it is used very sparingly (a total of only three or four times in the entire movie). Likewise, the fantasy backstory is there but almost completely irrelevant to the plot. There is a prophecy mentioned a handful of times, but we don’t really learn anything about it besides that it exists. Bright is essentially a survive-the-night buddy-cop action flick, and you almost forget about the weird fantasy stuff until something interesting happens.
But I digress… after a first act which establishes the two main characters and their dynamic, they respond to a disturbance call where they find a magic wand. In the context of the story, this is a huge deal. Ward, the veteran cop, realizes the magnitude of this discovery and immediately calls for backup, not that it helps. The next hour or so follows our heroes struggling to protect the wand from gangsters, corrupt cops, and a local orc clan. Again, it makes sense in context, because in-universe a wand can literally bring people back from the dead (to emphasize, the wand even has its own siren song leitmotif). It’s solid action that also serves to showcase this version of L.A.
This eventually leads to the climatic battle with the overarching villains - evil elves who are continually built up as a serious threat throughout the chase sequences. The conclusion is a bittersweet happy ending, and might seem a little cliched, but I really thought the movie earned it by not overusing the magic or prophecy stuff.
Bright holds up during repeat viewings too – mainly due to extremely strong performances by Will Smith and Joel Edgerton. Edgerton carries the movie, I couldn’t believe it was him under all that orc makeup. Smith also gives a great performance, and this isn’t him simply playing himself, like in Focus (2015). He actually plays an interesting character, with development and growth and a nice little story arc, if you’re into that kind of thing.
My advice? If a reviewer uses the logic – David Ayer and Will Smith made Suicide Squad therefore this unrelated movie is bad – you can safely ignore them. If they use a couple of awkward lines of dialogue like “Fairy Lives Don’t Matter” or the infamous “Swipe left” to discredit the entire film, ef that noise. No script is perfect.
Overall Bright is nowhere near as bad as Suicide Squad, and it's not an unimaginative rehash of Training Day either. I thought it was entertaining and a fresh take on the genre.
P.S. I’m going to legit get angry if the sequel isn’t named Brighter.
Two movies come to mind when watching urban fantasy buddy cop movie, Bright. The first is Last Action Hero, in which we are shown how police stations exist simply to pair up queues of mismatching cops. Even in 1993, audiences and movie makers had gotten wise to how hackneyed and cookie cutter buddy cop movies had become. The second movie is Zootopia, which showed us how something as generic as buddy cop movie could not only be made fresh again for a 2016 audience, but also be capable of discussing the bigger issues with subtlety and thought.
And then there's Bright, a hackneyed buddy cop movie in which Will Smith's character says "fairy lives don't matter!" in the first five minutes. Bright has nothing clever to add about anything. It shows us a modern day America where elves and orcs live alongside humans, but not as equals. Orcs are used as a stand in for black urban Americans, elves the wealthy white elite. We are given some opening credit exposition in the form of some helpfully detailed graffiti as to how this relationship came about, but if you think about it for more than a second, none of it works; if the orcs are super strong and the elves are superior at everything, why aren't the humans the subjugated ones? They're the runts of this society, but here they're depicted as the middle-class. Also, would a world with magic and super strong beings really look exactly the same as modern day LA, or would our society evolve into something that looks completely different? These questions I asked myself to distract from the cack-handed depictions of police brutality and racism, and also the show's problematic decision to parallel black people with a race of dangerous, ugly, tribal, monster people.
Once you get past the utterly awful racial stuff you get an utterly uninspired plot, wherein our two mismatched cops, one orc and one human, get stuck with a magic wand. It's basically a super rare and valuable Mcguffin everyone will kill for. There's lots of info dumped about prophesies, ancient dark ones, and blood leaders but it doesn't pay off in any meaningful way, and just forces our protagonists to run from dark alleyway to dark alleyway for the entire movie. This could have been saved if there were at least some imaginative action and fantasy fighting, but its too murky and samey. As with Suicide Squad, Will Smith turns up the 90s smart mouth charisma, but it is one bright spark in a clumsy, cliched, unpleasant and thoroughly boring movie.
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