Given how Netflix seems intent on disrupting as much of Hollywood as it possibly can, it should come as no surprise that it's now venturing into the world of blockbusters - and Bright, for better or worse, is its first attempt.
Written by Max Landis and directed by David Ayer, Bright is nothing if not bold in its premise. Essentially, it's a formula used before by Ayer and about a dozen other crime thrillers set in Los Angeles - the "one crazy night on the run", except this time, it's set in a world where orcs, elves, fairies and magic are all firmly ensconced in the world as readily as racial profiling, mortgage obligations and graffiti. Will Smith plays Daryl Ward, an LAPD officer who's forced to work alongside the first orc police officer in the world, Nick Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton under hours of latex makeup and facepaint.
For this unusual premise to work, the script doesn't so much as it carpet-bombs the social and racial subtext into the film. Elves are moneyed, aloof, arrogant, all seem to have high cheekbones, and dress like noveau riche assholes. Orcs, meanwhile, dress like street gangs and wear sunglasses behind their heads - and, naturally, have gang initiations that are glaringly similar to street gangs. In the middle are humans, who seem to operate a middle-ground that isn't referred to any kind of meaningful way.
Right from the very start, the premise just smacks of trying to smash two distinctive genres - inner-city crime thriller and high fantasy - together to see if it works. Of course, anyone who's seen Cowboys & Aliens will tell you that it doesn't and it's largely the same here. With the latter, you had Jon Favreau doing his best to blend the two together - or, at least, give it a more stable footing than Bright does. Here, it's painfully clear that one is layered over the other and forced to sit together. You even have Will Smith's character talking about "fairy lives don't matter," and a supporting human character talking about his ancestors slaughtered orcs and the same should be done again to stop them.
For all the world-building that goes on through the film, the actual mechanics of the story are frustratingly simple and dull. The two police officers stumble onto a magic wand that grants wishes, they're chased through the city by a trio of elves led by Noomi Rapace who want it back, two government agents from a Magic Task Force, and an orc gang who want the wand so they can upturn the social ordering of the city. Sure, a simple enough plot can work when there's an unusual premise at play - but one of the film's few qualities is that the world feels real and lived in enough that it's easy enough to accept. Therefore, a more involved and interesting plot might have helped than this.
Joel Edgerton, who is a highly underrated actor, fails to make any kind of a meaningful impact in the grand scheme of things and is so buried under the makeup that it's hard to read any kind of emotion on his face. What's more, the script positions him as this upright, honourable, almost naive creature when Edgerton's had far more success in more complex roles than this. Will Smith, meanwhile, mines his back catalogue for inspiration in being glib and sarcastic, but the dialogue he rattles off is so pained and obvious that it just doesn't work to his favour.
The supporting cast, made up of Noomi Rapace, Edgar Ramirez, Mindhunter's Happy Anderson and OITNB's Brad Henke do a decent job of providing enough texture to the story that it isn't a complete failure, but there's still not enough here to make it worth watching. Given how the overall action is so blandly staged and the fight sequences with Noomi Rapace's character involve some ridiculous looking wire-work, it doesn't make for a compelling experience.
While there are some workable and interesting ideas in Bright, the execution is so mediocre - like most of Ayer and Landis' work - that it'd reasonably fit in with other blandbusters released this year.