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Review: Bright

Orcs. Elves. Magic. The LAPD. No, this isn’t Middle Earth, but modern day Los Angeles.

In their ever-growing list of homegrown films, Netflix’s newest feature addition is Bright. Their 90 million dollar baby was delivered by the hands of David Ayer, most recently renowned for directing DC’s almost universal bomb Suicide Squad, but also responsible for acclaimed features Fury and End of Watch. Starring Will Smith as Will Smith, and Joel Edgerton as Orc-cop, this buddy-cop meets fantasy-jaunt has already bagged itself a sequel! This certainly bodes well…

Set in a world where humans and mythical creatures coexist in the world as we know it, LA police officer Daryl Ward, who has returned to work after being shot, is begrudgingly partnered with Nick Jakoby, who is also an Orc: the most disenfranchised and distrusted race in society. When they come across a coveted magic wand with corruptible power, the two must go on the run, solving a series of murders along the way and harbouring a rogue elf. Hilarity inevitably ensues.

Despite an original premise, the attempt to blend contemporary LA with elves, dragons and an archaic “dark lord” unfortunately doesn’t hold well. The idea that these beings have coexisted since time’s beginning could not possibly produce the same identical present; simply dropping in fantastical features to make a parallel world feels like lazy world-building.

On top of this, there are a few good looking shots, but the cinematography is indiscriminate, with all fantasy elements being decorative, and the music, a generic score and contemporary hits, is nothing original. The result is difficult to invest in. Noomi Rapace unfortunately is wasted talent in this film; despite spending most of the film on a murder spree, with barely a pages worth of lines, her villain is a barely-there presence.

The film benefits from a tightly-constructed plot line, but the dialogue is incredibly cheesy. The script is often silly and generic (cue “the prophecy!”) but there are certainly a few laughs in there, and if you let all of that go, you could simply enjoy this as a bit of comedic fluff. Except not really.

Beyond its surface plot, Ayer balances the central action with layers of race politics, class hierarchy and on-the-nose police corruption. However, real-life racism is replaced with allegorical racism, and it all feels a bit cheap. The systemic racism is essentially used as a plot device early on and has less importance when the plot descends into fantasy action. The film spends a lot of time establishing Jakoby as an intensely sympathetic character, bullied mercilessly by other cops (with… a kick-me sign?) and being set up for sabotage, simply because he is an orc. When it comes to moments of action, as the bumbling comic relief he seems almost puppy like, and you can only feel sorry for him. Jakoby, employed thanks to a patronising diversity scheme, is alienated by both the police force and orcs on the streets, and this is sadly a reality for many; but in the film, racial slurs are thrown around willy-nilly, especially by Will Smith’s protagonist. Where Jacoby is definitively more likeable, Smith’s Ward is ridiculously unsympathetic (even less so than Deadshot, even after being guilt tripped by his daughter). He does have some comedic moments in the eventual emergence of some banter between the two leads, but when a film is very obviously transposing very real issues onto fantasy doubles, it’s difficult to like a protagonist whose bigotry is the level of a racist white grandpa and whose arc is to realise that his partner is more than just his race.

The real problem here is tone. It isn’t quite 21 Jump Street, and its not quite Lethal Weapon – where there are moments of serious reflection on police brutality, there is also slapstick humour. Where there is generic fantasy dialogue, there are occasionally off-kilter funny moments. But this can’t all fit into one film – if they had decided on one take, Bright could have been a great comedy, satire, drama or fantasy. Its hard to contain what COULD be a complex unlikable protagonist, and social commentary, with the Federal Agents of Magic (without an ounce of irony) in one film and take the whole thing seriously.

Ayers mix of fantasy action and social commentary is an inconsistent muddle, and if you weren’t sure what to expect from the trailer, the film won’t make it any clearer. There was untapped potential, and whilst it makes an effort to tackle current issues head on, the result is insincere; Bright still ends up being silly and kind of entertaining by the end – as long as you forget the first half.

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