I got really excited for Bright when I saw the first teasers what seems like an eternity ago. My first reaction was, “FUCKING SHADOWRUN MOVIE.” The closer we got to the release date Bright seemed more like a fantasy oriented remake of Alien Nation. On that comparison there are two schools of thought out there, the “Oh god is this going to be like Alien Nation?” and the “Hey is this going be like Alien Nation!?”
The first review of the movie I saw on Vulture by Emily Yoshida mentioned neither of these intellectual properties. In trying to burn off some time and energy while I was at work I wrote a brief recap of Alien Nation and Shadowrun to put before my review of Bright. After viewing the movie and now sitting at my keyboard I immediately deleted all that shit.
Bright is not a very good movie.
This movie falls into a lot of the same traps that plagued Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Bright feels like yet another one of these “franchise starter” movies that strays from telling one story that the movie is actually about in order to drop hooks for other stories in this universe. Folks, if you make a good movie then no one will give a shit how well you set up a completely independent sequel set in the same universe.
So let me give you the plot recap while trying to strip out the distracting bullshit. Will Smith and Joel Edgerton are cops in a buddy cop movie. Will Smith is only a few years away from retirement. I like that this movie actually acknowledges that Will Smith is almost 50 because 50 year old cops are worried about their pensions. 56 year old Tom Cruise will be playing 30-40 for as long as the studios let him.
So Joel Edgerton is the only Orc police officer. He comes from a group of orcs that have assimilated into human society. Now in a competent movie the screenwriter has to explain to you what an orc is. They don’t do that here. They kind of just assume you’ve seen Lord of the Rings. Shit, someone who’s only ever played World of Warcraft might be saying, “Why are the orcs bad guys?” Why indeed Billy, why indeed.
Let me explain very very briefly by saying that most orcs do not assimilate to human cultural norms that eschew violence in polite society. Joel Edgerton’s character does assimilate and is rejected by other orcs for that reason.
So you have this cookie cutter buddy cop situation. When the movie begins Will Smith was recently shot on the job and is now back at work. He blames Joel Edgerton for this because Joel was buying lunch at the time he was shot and apparently Will Smith did not have any input on being re-assigned to a desk or different partner. He also blames Joel Edgerton because the shooter was an Orc and the department thinks maybe Joel let the shooter get away. Internal Affairs wants Will Smith to get proof of this so they can throw Joel Edgerton off the force.
So Will Smith and Joel Edgerton respond to a call one night. When they show up there is clear evidence of magic use abound. They immediately call for backup and The Feds as apparently The Feds have the magic-police. But they keep investigating and they find an Elf girl and a magic fucking wand.
In this universe magic seems to be exceptional and rare. This is not Eberron where soldiers returning from the Last War often brought their wands home with them. No, wands are always extremely powerful and extremely dangerous, especially to non-magic users. So Will Smith’s backup arrives and immediately this movie turns into The Shield or Training Day. Will Smith even name drops Rampart, an infamously corrupt division of the LAPD you can read about on Wikipedia and featured in an excellent Woody Harrelson movie. The other cops that show up immediately say, we got to keep this wand to ourselves and kill Joel Edgerton who is a good cop boy scout. Is Will Smith in?
This is probably the best part of the movie. You’ve exact scene in another cop movie with a bunch of cops who find a shitload of drugs or money. It’s not an original scene but this movie needs beats that are relatable and let the actors show emotion without being just obvious setup. “Racism is Bad, Buddy Cops Don’t Get Along” are obvious setups. This scene actually lets Will Smith act. You see pain and indecision on his face. He’s in a life and death decision moment. But Will Smith knows that just by hesitating to say yes he’s condemned himself. So like Mike from Better Call Saul he gets the drop on the corrupt cops and kills all four of them.
Will Smith gets in contact with a Federal Magic Agent who assures him that if he brings in the wand he can make sure Will Smith doesn’t face charges. From this point on, Joel Edgerton, Will Smith, and Elf Girl are on the run. Orc Gangs, Human Gangs, Elf Gangs, and the LAPD are after them to try and get this wand. These scenes seem to drag on forever. Eventually Will Smith and co get caught by an orc boss who orders their execution. And Joel Edgerton gets shot in the fucking head but the Elf Girl brings him back to life by casting Revivify with the magic wand she was hiding on her person. The orcs didn’t search her and find a glowing magic wand?
Elf Girl’s name is Tikka. Someone on Twitter pointed out that she is basically Leeloo from the 5th Element and after that I could not unsee it. But she and Noomi Rapace barely have characters in this movie. Elf Fed Guy, the handsome dude in the suit from the trailer, all of his scenes are in the trailer and he contributes nothing to the movie. It almost seems like they wanted to set up Elf Fed Guy and Human Fed Guy as characters for their own movie. Like that will happen.
Anyways, this scene with the Orc Boss it turns out the Orc boss’s son was a bystander during Will Smith’s shooting. And Joel Edgerton got him out of the area so he didn’t get arrested for being an orc on a sunny day when a cop got shot. So they are let go by the orcs. It is exactly like the scene from Training Day where Ethan Hawke gets released by a gang when their leader realizes he saved his cousin from being assaulted earlier in the movie.
The Heroes go on the offensive to prevent the elf gang from enacting their evil plan and to save Elf Girl. I guess after bringing Joel Edgerton back from the dead she got fucked up. Will Smith grabs the wand in an attempt to suicide bomb the elves but…he’s a wizard, Harry! He does not immediately die and instead can hold the thing. Elf Girl tells him to point the wand at the bad guy and say “AVADA KEDAVRA.” He does and the evil elf gets killed.
Apparently it is possible in this universe to have the potential to be a magic user all your life and not know it. Are there no compulsory tests in grade school for this?
The Wand gets turned over to the feds and the local orcs are impressed with Joel Edgerton, enough to forgive his human tendencies. Will Smith tells his edited version of events to the Feds. He and Joel Edgerton are heroes along with the corrupt cops.
Here’s what I left out. The Evil Elf Gang are trying to gather three magic wands in order to resurrect an elf simply known as “The Dark Lord” who 2000 years ago, with most of the world’s orcs, nearly conquered the world until an orc named Jirak rallied the rest of the world and brought him down. There’s also a group called The Shield of Light that are basically the Order of the Phoenix keeping tabs on Death Eaters who want to bring back the Dark Lord. These are interesting world details but they are completely separate from the “two good cops trying to do the right thing in a corrupt world” story that would be a good and simple introduction to this world. You strip that backstory out of the movie and in the third act you hint that this is why the elves want the wand. Then, assuming you told the story well, you get greenlit for a sequel where you bring in this larger world.
I realized we were in trouble in the opening credits which shows various graffiti saying “Jirak Lives!” or “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi The Dark Lord!” I thought the Dark Lord thing was going to be a twist since that isn’t in the trailers. I picked it up from the first round of reviews. These credits have several pictures heralding The Dark Lord’s Return and it seems like something I should find out in the movie, not from the opening credits.
Part of the reason you don’t put all this stuff in one goddamn movie is to leave yourself some rope to climb out of the plot holes. You’re telling me in a world with Dragons and Elves that America exists and people speak English as a first language? Leave yourself someplace to go. But I’m being foolish. No fucking way this gets a sequel.
This movie also commits the Cardinal Sin that I’m going to keep calling out until I learn to stop watching trailers or the studios wise up. DO NOT under any circumstances put scenes from the last 10 minutes of your movie IN THE TRAILER. The scene with Joel Edgerton in his dress uniform on stage is the final scene in the movie. The scene with Will Smith in his hospital bed immediately precedes it. Both scenes were in the trailer. CUT THAT SHIT OUT. More likely, I need to wise up and stop watching goddamn trailers.
My final thought is that this movie is cluttered to the point of being bad. There are ideas here that could’ve been good. I wish like hell it was good because much like the DC Universe I would really like to see another creator tell stories in this world. And I liked Suicide Squad while in no way disputing the terrible reviews it got. This one is harder to stick up for.
*Update* I would strongly recommend you check out The Cinema Snob review for Bright. They didn’t care for this much but they really push back on the “worst movie of the year” bullshit.