The central premise of Bright is so good. A buddy cop action movie but with fantasy elements? How cool! The mind reels at the possibilities one can come up with for making a feature film centered around that premise considering just how expansive of a canvas one has to play with in terms of famous creatures, items and types of people associated with fantasy storytelling. Bright decides to just go for the most generic and non-fun version of its premise imaginable. Those expecting to have some good o’l R-rated cop movie fun here will leave wondering why such an exciting premise had to be executed in such a grimy and monotonous manner.
Bright takes place in a world where fantasy elements have always existed alongside human beings. If this makes you think that our modern-day world looks a whole lot different due to things like fairies and pixies having always existed, no, Los Angeles looks just like Los Angeles except there are now Orc’s and Elves running around. Anywho, Los Angeles police officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is being forced to partner up with the first ever Orc police officer, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), a situation he detests due to a widespread prejudice against Orc’s shared by all humans. But he’s been forced to ride alongside Jakoby so he must learn to live with his new partner.
While answering a distress call one night, Ward and Jakoby stumble upon a safe house occupied by elf extremists who want to unleash a dark Lord unto the mortal world. How will they do this? Why, with the help of a magic wand of course! Only a person known as a Bright (that’s where the title comes from), who is born with the ability to clutch a magic wand, can wield such a weapon. That’s not gonna stop local gang members and an evil elf named Leilah (Noomi Rapace) from trying to get their hands on it. Ward and Jakoby are now out on their own with no back-up, a dangerous magical weapon at their disposal and everyone evil hot on their tails.
A lot can be forgiven in a high-concept action movie but the biggest sin such a film can commit in my book is a lack of imagination and Jesus Christ, is Bright ever lacking imagination. The very fact that a number of your prominent supporting characters are elves and Orc’s should give you license to do a bunch of fun action scenes heavily utilizing fantasy elements, but nope. Bright instead has Leilah and her two cronies wield machine guns and other typical mortal human being weaponry while the magic wand itself is only used as a cannon of sorts in times of combat, it’s wish-granting abilities are never once used when it’s time for fighting because that would actually be fun and Bright has no time for that.
Instead, Bright concentrates on doing social commentary of the worst kind as it tries to make a racial parable involving the Orc’s as stand-in’s for disenfranchised populations. That’s a potentially interesting idea but the film totally bungles that by making every single Orc we meet that isn’t Jakoby some snarling violent monster ready to kill at a moments notice. There’s no humanization of the heightened fantasy creatures to be found here and why would there be? Bright has this obvious contempt for the world of fantasy and the creatures (like Orc’s) that live in it that it just makes you wonder why people who seem to hate fantasy so much that they open the movie with Will Smith killing a fairy would be put in charge of a buddy cop movie leaning heavily on fantasy elements.
While Max Landis’s script combines tone-deaf social commentary with dismal action sequences and some awful attempts at mimicking typical buddy cop movie dialogue, director David Ayer seems to be on autopilot behind the camera thanks to how poorly executed the assorted action sequences are on a visual level. Between this and Suicide Squad, I must ask why do Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov feel convinced that filming everything in grimy darkness will be visually pleasing? It just makes the movie look either garish or incoherent, sometimes both at the same time! And then there’s poor Will Smith in the lead role, the guy never gets a chance to utilize either the energetic personality or the dramatic chops that he excels at as an actor, he’s instead stuck playing this defined lead character who is almost as boring as the movie’s screenplay! I don’t know whose Bright idea it was to ensure that Bright didn’t utilize any of the potential it had in it’s lead actor or it’s basic premise, but it just results in a movie that’s ugly and no fun at all and a movie about a human being cop and an Orc cop trying to keep a magic wand from falling into nefarious hands should at least be fun!