As the 2017 winds down Netflix brings out one last big gun as one of their original films before the barrage of new content they will be delivering in 2018, including 80, yes, 80 original films. This year ends with the action/fantasy film “Bright” written by Max Landis (American Ultra, Chronicle) and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad). Coming from the home video generation as I do when a movie doesn’t come out in theaters, but goes direct-to-video it usually signifies a lack in quality or something people will not line up to see, or ever put on their top ten lists. But with the change in culture and the way we consume movies, a direct-to-streaming a bad movie does not make. So did “Bright” deserve the big screen treatment? Read on.
Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is an aging cop, not quite Danny Glover from “Lethal Weapon” but close, who is partnered with the departments first Orc officer, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) in this alternate world where elves, fairies, and magic exists in our modern L.A. of gangbangers and hated cops. After an incident with his partner that brings his loyalty into question Ward is looking for any reason to break free of this burden of a cop who is hated by both humans and fairytale creatures alike. When his chance does come and it collides with this morals, he takes the high road that leads him, his Orc partner and a mysterious Elf (Lucy Fry) to some low places as they go on the run from an entire city and a villainous Elf played by the always entertaining Noomi Rapace.
Like most of the Max Landis scripted films I have seen, he is not content to stay in one single genre, and I admire that, but there has to be a clear vision for the mashups to work as solid film. “Bright” is a further victim of that disjointed quality, while there are some great moments and clever world-building it often bumps into itself on more than one occasion. What keeps it out of mediocre direct-to-streaming territory is the direction by David Ayer, a man who just knows how to direct the hell out of a movie. His action is gritty, unconventional, and brilliantly shot at times, with some too quick to see clearly what’s going on, but overall an impressive watch. Will Smith starts off strong with a brave performance as a guy who knows he’s getting ‘too old for this shit’. I liked how he looked beaten down a bit and jaded by the system he once believed in. But he falls into Will Smith hero mode a little too much as it feels misplaced in parts of the film. Edgerton as the shamed Orc turned cop was given the yin to Smith’s yang as the rookie cop with visions of fighting the good fight and serving his inherited community, doesn’t land as well. Again he has his moments as he does his best to emote through the makeup, but relies on his awkward movements and his ‘oh gosh’ tone.
For what it is “Bright” is not bad at all, it’s just not as focused as it could have been, I do applaud the filmmakers avoidance of the obvious world ending implications, though there is that here, but generally the stakes are small as we stay with our cops and their mission throughout the film. I believe that Netflix is certainly headed in the right direction with this year’s “Okja” and “Whatever Happened to Monday”, I would certainly put “Bright” up there as a promise to make better films but just ends up as missed opportunity.