The in-laws were over for the holidays, and one of our favorite things to do is watch a new movie together. David Ayer’s Modern Fantasy venture Bright recently dropped on Netflix so we decided to watch it. Unfortunately, Bright isn’t nearly as bright as it could be.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS IMMINENT
Bright takes place on an alternate reality Earth which is populated by 9 different races referred to as…. wait for it…. The 9 Races. They consist of Humans, Orcs, Elves and….. well, that’s about it really. At one point there is a Centaur cop, but the movie never elaborates on what the 9 Races consist of. Regardless, 2000 years ago (I’m guessing 17 AD?) the 9 Races fought against the “Dark Lord”, except the majority of Orcs sided with him. The 9 (or 8, if you’re picky, unlike the screenwriters) races defeated the Dark Lord and banished him, or something, and the Races have never forgiven the Orcs for their betrayal. There is magic in this world, and magic wands can only be wielded by “Brights”: everyone else literally explodes upon picking up a wand. Because a majority of Brights are elves, they are the ruling class of people. Orcs, due to their betrayal, are basically second class citizens.
We’re introduced to Officers Ward (derivative performance by Will Smith) and Jakoby (delightful performance by Joel Edgerton). In the opening scenes Ward is shot by a Gangster Orc whilst his Orc partner Jakoby gleefully purchases a burrito from a street vendor. We fast forward past Ward’s recovery to his first day back on the job. Jakoby arrives at Ward’s home to take him to work, and we find that Ward is extremely bitter about the incident, and is angry at Jakoby for “not having his back” (completely ignoring the fact that Ward’s face was glued to his smartphone moments before the shooting) and letting the shooter get away. It seems that not only is Jakoby the first Orc on the LAPD, but the first Orc cop EVER. The only one who seems happy about this is Jakoby: he is despised by his human colleagues just for being an Orc and equally so by other Orcs for filing down his fangs and being “unblooded” (we’ll get to that later). They first drop off Ward’s daughter with a relative, where she shows concern that he will die, because she overheard her mom saying that Jakoby is going to get him killed.
Jakoby and Ward drive through a montage of the different parts of the city: the normal human suburbs, the Orcish slums, and the Elven bustling metropolis before coming to a scene where a homeless man is in the middle of the intersection brandishing a broadsword. Ward is greeted by the first-responder, a friend and sheriff’s deputy who chat gleefully before apprehending the hobo. While taking him in, Sword Hobo starts talking to Jakoby in Orcish, telling him that he and Ward will fulfill a prophecy and that Ward is “blessed”. When they arrive at the station, Jakoby points out two “Feds” as magic Police, one an elf, the other a low-budget John Goodman. He then proceeds to book the hobo while Ward is approached by Internal Affairs, who assume that Jakoby let Ward’s shooter get away over “clan loyalty”. They hand Ward an extremely large and obvious voice recorder and ask him to get Jakoby to admit it so that they can fire him from the LAPD, and you can promptly forget that this item and these people exist.
Jakoby and Ward are called to a scene in the hood where someone opens fire on them. They manage to kill the guy and storm the building, where they come across a lot of blood and bodies that have been magicked to death. They find what appears to be a sentient prison tattoo embedded into a wall. Meanwhile, the 2 Magic Feds interrogate Sword Hobo, who they out as a member of the “Shield of Light”. They believe that the Dark Lord will return and and only magic can stop him. The Feds then proceed to exposition at us about two characters: Leila, the Hot Evil elf and Tikka, the Annoying Good elf. Leila is a member of the Inferni, who are trying to bring the Dark Lord back, and Tikka betrayed Leila and has her wand, and now Leila wants her DEAD. The Feds then begin their search for the two.
Surprise! Ward and Jakoby discover Tikka and the wand and are able to subdue her. They call for back up, and for some reason all the cops all happen to be the ones who earlier in the film expressed extreme, borderline violent prejudice against Jakoby. Jakoby takes Tikka outside, as she only speaks elvish and Jakoby has a basic understanding while the other cops try to figure out what to do with the wand. Surprise! The cops are all corrupt and try to convince Ward to kill Jakoby to hide the wand’s existence. They want to keep the magic wand for themselves to make themselves rich, somehow. They planned to kill Jakoby anyway and they threaten to kill Ward too if he doesn’t join them.
Ward goes out and forces Jakoby to confess about the day he got shot, and Jakoby admits that he cornered the wrong Orc; it was an innocent kid, and believes that the responding cops would have shot the kid on sight regardless. Ward believes him and suddenly channels Will Smith’s original role as Neo and proceeds to gundown all 4 crooked cops in slow motion (ignore this as this ability as it is never seen again). A literal army of Chicano gang members arrive and demand the magic wand because, once again wands are wish granting macguffins. They give chase and Ward, Jakoby and Tikka escape, but the wand belongs to Leila and can only travel so far away from her. This creates a barrier preventing the wand from being so far away from her, causing their SUV to crash, as opposed to just ripping the wand out of the rear window. This magic perimeter is never mentioned again, but anyways they are now injured and on foot.
Gangcraft: Orcs and Chicanos
Leila and her two silent Elven goons arrive at the original crime scene and proceed to effortlessly rough up a couple of the thugs and their families, because elves are also ninjas. Meanwhile, Ward convinces Jakoby to ditch their cop uniforms because all the bad guys are looking for cops, but also ditch their bulletproof vests, because Ward is a moron. Surprise! They are found anyway and drop the wand, but fortunately the bad guys aren’t very bright, in a multitude of ways, and they all proceed to explode upon touching the wand, somehow leaving the heroes unscathed. They attempt to hide out in an Orc Night Club, pissing off the Fogteeth Orc Clan, which leads to a brawl between the gangs and the orcs, and now Ward and Jakoby are being chased by Elves, Orcs, and the Chicano gang. The Chicano gang then corners the group in a more different night club, where the paraplegic gang leader professes that he wants the wand to fix his legs and his ability to poop properly because once again, wands are like Dragon Balls. Tikka’s Leila-sense starts tingling, and Leila and her goons arrive and proceed to ninja everyone to death except the protagonists, who stand around like idiots and watch the mayhem.
Ward, Jakoby and Tikka escape unscathed and take refuge outside a gas station and call Ward’s Sheriff buddy from before, who then calls the Magic Feds. The Deputy proceeds to cuff Ward and Jakoby to follow law enforcement protocol. He then proceeds to follow expendable movie ally protocol and DIES as Leila and Co. arrive. They run into the gas station and the bad elves, who apparently forgot all of their ninja skills, attempt to kill Ward and Jakoby with cars and guns. Tikka spontaneously develops ninja skills of her own and assists them in escaping, blowing up the entire gas station in the process (don’t worry, nobody important dies). The Fogteeth Orcs from before intercept and capture the group.
They awaken in the Fogteeth Orcs’ hideout, the leader of whom beat Jakoby and Ward and berate the former for being unblooded and ruining his party. They demand the wand and search Ward, Jakoby and Tikka for it, but they cannot locate it. The leader then orders his son to kill Jakoby and become blooded himself. Surprise! It’s the kid Jakoby saved when Ward was shot, and he refuses to shoot Jakoby. The leader shrugs and shoots and kills him anyways, causing his body to drop into an inexplicably stories deep hole in the ground. Surprise! Tikka had the wand under her skin and was a Bright the whole time! She uses it to bring Jakoby back to life. A random Orc shaman, complete with a bovine skull headdress, then claims that The Prophecy is fulfilled. Is this the same prophecy that Sword Hobo spoke of earlier? Who knows!? They let them all leave, and Tikka reveals that she speaks English. She has been hiding that fact since she did not trust them, regardless of the fact that she spent 90% of the movie being completely helpless in their care, and the other 10% saving their asses. She also reveals that she is now dying, possibly from bringing Jakoby back to life.
The Plot Thinens
Tikka tells Ward and Jakoby that she needs to dipped into the
Lazarus Pit magic pool back where everything started. However, the bad Inferni elves are waiting for them, and despite all of their elf ninja skills and the enormous body count they have left thus far, Ward and Jakoby kill them with guns. Ward dips Tikka into the pool which does absolutely nothing, while Jakoby looks on, not paying attention to his surroundings and possibly humming a silly song in his head. Surprise! Leila has healed, attempts to lynch Jakoby and summons the wand to herself. She then blasts Ward away (only incapacitating him, for some reason). Leila begins to talk and caress Tikka seductively, before revealing that the two are sisters, raising a number of questions about the former actions. Jakoby escapes from his noose and shoots Leila, knocking the wand away from Leila and near Ward. Ward announces that he will grab the wand, killing them all. Leila calls his bluff and Jakoby painstakingly reminds Ward that he is not a Bright and that he will die if he touches the wand. Surprise! Ward is a Bright, and with a little help from Tikka kills Leila with the wand. Due to the resulting explosion, Tikka disappears and the building begins to burn down. Ward is incapacitated by debris but Jakoby saves him and they escape the building, where the cops and the Fogteeth Orcs from before await. The Orc leader cuts his hand and raises it into the air, and apparently Jakoby is now blooded?
The movie ends with Jakoby and Ward in the hospital being met by the 2 Magic feds, where Jakoby humorously expositions the movie’s plot for them in great and incriminatory detail, before the two are honored in a public ceremony while Tikka watches on from the crowd.
What starts off as an interesting world with great visuals is quickly shown to be derivative and riddled with issues. On the surface, Bright presents itself as a modern day tale with high-fantasy elements, but it never goes any deeper than that. The fantasy elements in Bright should add to the movie, but they provide nothing but distractions. The idiosyncrasies of the setting should help drive the plot forward and motivate our characters. The setting of Bright does neither of these. It’s nothing but fluff to hide the fact that this movie has no substance and is a rehash of every other cop/gang movie You can replace the wand with any macguffin, such as a bag of diamonds or the plans for a doomsday weapon. The second class citizen status of Orcs could have been emulated by just setting the story in prior to the 60’s and making Orcs Black people. The Inferni could have been any fictional criminal or clandestine organization. By trying to shove 2000 years worth of lore into a 2 hour movie that is primarily focused on action, the movie introduced a number of glaring problems.
Diet Racism: Now With More Orcs
The Orcs are a poor allegory for Black and Hispanic Americans. They are literally inner city stereotypes, except with fangs and greenish brown skin. The elves are the upper crust of white america: thin, light skinned, wealthy and attractive. It doesn’t make sense how a fantasy setting with apparently 9 different sentient races and magic still managed to end up with a soceity similar to normal Earth. There are countless examples of demi-human races in literature and media and the best they could come up with is “Orcs are thugs.” What race represents rural south? Is it hobbits? Do dwarves all live in Appalachia and brew moonshine? The cultural differences of the non-human presented by the movie are 90% visuals and 10% “Wait did I miss something? I should probably turn on the subtitles.”
Jakoby, while easily the best character in the film, doesn’t get the development he deserves. His character arc had the potential to highlight an issue that many minorities in America deal with: The idea that some cultures are unsuitable for success in society and must be abandoned. It would make sense if Orc culture was completely incompatible with society, like if they had some weird or illegal religious and/or cultural practices. Considering that the movie never elaborates on Orc culture other than that they have clans and some of them are Blooded, there’s nothing clear as to why Jakoby couldn’t retains his fangs and become blooded and still be a cop. The movie is basically saying that if you’re an ethnic minority, just throw your culture to the wind if you want to succeed. Except at no point does Jakoby do anything that any other Orc couldn’t do, he’s simply a special prophecy fulfilling Orc, the only “good one”. Nothing in the movie ever shows that the hate and discrimination against Orcs is warranted outside of some vague war 2000 years ago.
All of the Orcs seem to operate in Clans, but the movie never elaborates on what specific clans are at stake outside of the Fogteeth or what clan Jakoby is a member of. Are all the Orcs in LA Fogteeth? This is important because Orcs operate on Clan Loyalty, not just generic Orc Loyalty, and the hatred against Jakoby as well as his accusation of letting Ward’s shooter escape could easily be debunked. Perhaps the movie was attempting to highlight human’s ignorance about how Clans operates, but the movie doesn’t seem to know itself. It can be assumed by the events of the movie that Jakoby is a member of the Fogteeth, but there is no indication who is or isn’t a member.
Character Flaws: 9001
The entire cast outside of Jakoby are ridiculously stock. Will Smith’s Ward is bland and unlikable. He is a generic conflicted cop who does what he has to do to get through each day. It’s a performance we’ve all seen from him countless times: all he adds to the film is his name. Tikka is a generic Damsel in and/or out of distress, depending on what the scene calls for, one moment shrieking in horror and cowering behind the other cast, the next flipping around the set like a Jedi. She is so forgettable that when she is not on scene, you can’t figure out if she’s been caught by the bad guys or if she’s just out of shot. The bad guys are extremely generic and one note. The Chicano gang members are the same ones from all of David Ayer’s films, in regards to both actor AND portrayal. The corrupt cops are the standard unlikable crooked movie cops that bully good cops. Leila’s Inferni are cookie cutter silent assassins who only have two settings: death deal and death stare.
There is 0 chemistry between Ward and Jakoby. I don’t mean that they should become best buds after all of the events of the movie. Ward goes out of it’s way to tell us that didn’t happen at the climax. What I mean is that any two actors could have filled the lead roles. The few major scenes where the two characters need to connect: Ward’s rant at Jakoby about loyalty, Ward getting to Jakoby to confess about the shooting, and Jakoby saving Ward from the building just feel like 2 actors acting at their own pace. It feels like Edgerton’s and Smith’s scenes were filmed separately and spliced together in post. To be honest, the whole movie feels that way.
Consistency – Diagnosis: Swiss Cheese
A large number of plot points are brought up and never revisited again. Early in the movie we’re introduced to the Shield of Light by Sword Hobo, but other than a few name drops and some symbols floating around the set pieces, they’re never brought up again. If their only job is to prevent the Dark Lord from coming back, and the Dark Lord can be brought back if Leila gets her wand, then they are extremely awful at their job. Speaking of which, through the course of the movie, we learn that Leila already had the wand; Tikka didn’t steal it. Tikka simply ran away, and Leila gave her wand to an underling to kill and/or find Tikka. She fails and Tikka takes the wand and turns her into the prison wall tattoo found earlier in the movie, for some reason. Wands are supposed to be rare and powerful, and losing it was the only thing keeping Leila from resurrecting the Dark Lord. So why did she send the wand with the assassin? Leila had two assassins on standby who were capable of killing entire night clubs of gang members, and she is clearly more powerful than them. In the event she didn’t want to kill her own sister, why didn’t she send wall tattoo and the other two without the wand?
As I mentioned before, there is no mention of Jakoby’s clan, or his own family. Does he have a family, and are they supportive of his unblooded-ness or ashamed? Is there a reason he always wanted to be a cop ever since he was a kid, even though every other Orc in the movie is an impoverished urban stereotype? At one point Jakoby mentions how the leader of the 9 Races against the Dark Lord 2000 years ago was an unblooded orc. Perhaps he always wanted to be a cop because he is destined to be the second coming of Orc Jesus? It doesn’t matter, because he fulfills the “Prophecy” in the span of a few minutes in the most anticlimactic movie resurrection ever made. Speaking of the “Prophecy”, what exactly does this prophecy entail, and why is it shared by both Orc Clans and the Shield of Light? Did the prophecy involve an inept, unblooded orc being murdered by another orc and being brought back to life by a Bright elf? Am I being too specific? Not specific enough?
Bright had potential. The idea behind a modern world with high fantasy characters isn’t exactly new (See Shadowrun) but its a rather uncharted territory for mainstream media. It attempts to introduce an interesting world with an interesting mythos, but proceeds to throw the characters’ and setting’s potential to the wayside in favor of being a cliche cop film where Will Smith saves the day. The movie unfortunately prefers to tell and not show. It attempts to be subtle and quirky by slipping in slight references to how the world works, but the movie is not smart enough to demand that the audience work to understand what is going on. There is talk of a sequel, so hopefully those in charge of it will be able to salvage the missed potential of this movie. It’s entertaining and worth at least one viewing, and if you’ve managed to never see a single movie done by David Ayer, you may actually enjoy it.