Bright is Netflix’s newest and most controversial release. An urban fantasy/buddy cop mashup that draws tropes from both genres, that fans of either will find something entertaining. There were two points in this film where I laughed out loud in a way that I haven’t since Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies.
Bright takes place in Los Angeles, California and right away the audience is assaulted with racially charged imagery. Things like Orcs eat pigs really stick out and paint a setting that reminds me of the tensions in the media circa the ‘92 L.A. riots. This expectation is backed up by our main characters, Daryl Ward and Nick Jakoby, who are part of the LAPD.
Immediately we see the fantasy elements, orcs are real and, surprise surprise, people don’t like them very much. Elves are also real but unlike they’re orcish counterparts, they live in the upper cast of society and essentially rule the world. We find out relatively quickly that orcs are despised not specifically because of any racial trait, but because 2,000 years ago, the sided with the Dark One. All we really know about this Dark One is that there are people in the city who want him to come back (done very nice with graffiti).
At this point in the film, I’m firmly thinking this is a Tolkien inspired world. Orcs worship Sauron and are corrupted elves, that sort of thing.
Another important trope to recognize is the fantasy magic user trope. Not everyone can be a super powerful wizard, you’ve got to be special (or chosen). And this is where the title of the movie comes from. A Bright is a magical adept, adepts are the only ones that can handle a magic wand with their bare hands. And wouldn’t you know, almost all bright are elves.
No wonder they’re doing so well.
Actors, wardrobe, and general effect.
First off, Will Smith and Joel Edgerton crush it.
The jaded beat cop juxtaposed against the rookie with no hope of becoming anything (Great cop movie trope btw)? These two nail it. Ward and Jakoby’s character growth is really sold by these two and based on the setting, I think that’s a real accomplishment. Not everyone could have pulled this relationship off.
Costuming was effective. There elves and Orcs had a specific style to them that worked and weren’t overly realistic. The orcs were more domesticated versions of their Lord of the Rings counterparts while the elves seemed to do the opposite. Elves have the pointy ears and agile bodies were accustomed to seeing, but they also come equipped with pointed teeth. I’m not sure if this was in an attempt to villainize them, making them almost vampiric in appearance. If that were the case, it worked, but it did throw me off at first.
The CG wasn’t too obtrusive. With the detail of the costumes, the only time I noticed it was when characters were entirely CG, but this was rare. The magic effects were really fun and the way the director, David Ayers, eases the audience into that party of the setting keeps it from feeling jarring.
There’s also a car chase at the first big plot point that was really spectacular.
Daryl Ward is a grizzled cop with only five years left to collect his pension. Then he gets paired up with the last person he’d expect. An orc.
Everyone hates Nick Jakoby, every other cop in the precinct, his partner Daryl Ward, and especially other orcs.
It’s a good a good character setup and backed by the setting, develops into a really good plot. I don’t want to delve into much deeper than this to keep this review spoiler free. Suffice it to say, it hits all the major plot devices you’d expect in a three act screenplay, and it hits them really well.
There are loose ends too be tried up after the film’s credits roll. Lucky for us, Netflix has already ordered a sequel, and Will Smith has already signed on.
This hits all the major urban fantasy tropes. Magic in the modern day, brooding protagonist, snarky but lovable lone wolf (how can he be a lone wolf in a buddy cop movie, I know), magic counsel. I said before, it really draws on an audience’s familiarity with Tolkien to establish some of the premises. Now if you’re not familiar with Tolkien don’t worry, you’ll recognize the tropes based on his world without knowing where it came from.
Because at its core, urban fantasy is a genre mashup we get to see a lot of the buddy cop tropes as well. Hopeless rookie, battle against internal affairs, pension conflict, and the crooked cop. A lot of the humor you’d be accustomed to seeing in an action movie is stuffed in effectively as well.
Bright is a movie that critics don’t understand because while it isn’t a new idea, it’s a new IP: something Hollywood desperately needs. Urban Fantasy has been hot on television for years, now we’re starting to see it in a bigger budget package. Bright could be a franchise that brings in new fans for years to come, as long as the obvious care for detail and love of the product that Max Landis and David Ayres brought to the role of writer/director.
If you like urban fantasy and liked this movie, check out Immortal Fear:
He’s given up everything in his quest for revenge… Including his humanity. The apocalypse comes. Will it be enough?
Silas Bishop is a Soldier with a checkered past. Everyone he knows thinks he’s dead. He only cares about one thing. Killing David Philips. All of his planning has lead up to this moment. With his target in the cross-hairs – Silas’s life suddenly hangs in the balance.