Jan-8-2018

Reel Snippet – Bright

Summary: 2,000 years ago, humans, elves, and many other magical races defeated a being called the Dark Lord. Today, these races still exist and live among humanity with varying societal standings. Such is the case of Scott Ward (Will Smith) and Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), a human and an orc serving the LAPD in the same squad car. Nick is none too popular on the force, both because he’s the only orc cop and because popular opinion says he let a perp that shot Scott go because he was an orc too. Things go sideways one night when the two come across a brutal crime scene and a scared elf girl named Tikka (Lucy Fry) wielding a magic wand, which can warp reality so long as the wielder has the potential for magic. The three of them then become a target for seemingly every power hungry person in the city, including a paraplegic gangster named Poison (Enrique Murciano), an orc gang leader with his own cut of turf named Dorghu (Brad William Henke), and an elven doomsday cult led by the deadly Leilah (Noomi Rapace) that wants to use the wand’s power to resurrect the Dark Lord. Maybe with a little bit of magic, the trio can survive the night and find it within themselves to trust one another.

Review: Bright probably sounds like a really interesting movie from the description I just gave, but it’s not. I assure you, it is most definitely not. Had this been shown in theaters, I would have walked out ten times over. While the setting is rather intriguing, it does little but hang on the dried skeleton of every tired buddy cop script alchemized together chimera-style. I wouldn’t mind so much if they tried to have fun with the concept, but a lot of the details seem really obvious. Orcs like heavy metal. Elves are the Paris Hiltons of the world. A dollar store fan fiction writing could have come up with that. The filmmakers should check out this video game called Dragon Age because that showed that you don’t have borrow from Tolkein every time you make a fantasy.

Oh, but there’s political commentary here, so let’s talk about that. See, orcs are subject to frequent prejudice and police brutality, just like real minority groups. Jakoby is even called an affirmative action hire, as he’s the only orc on the LAPD. Here’s the thing, though, I don’t think this movie really cares about being socially conscious. Evidence of this comes right in the first few seconds when I learned that one of the production studios was called (and when I saw this, my head and wall collided furiously because I knew I was in for a ****show) Trigger Warning Entertainment. My Google-Fu gave me nothing when I searched for this company, which makes me think that it’s just a cheap joke made for this movie. To further compound the point, when Scott goes to clean a fairy out of his bird feeder, he remarks loudly to his neighbors, “Fairy lives don’t matter today.” Wow… a crack about Black Lives Matter, a movement formed because actual people died by police brutality. “Oh,” some might say, “but a black guy’s saying it. That makes it okay!” Yeah, but a black guy didn’t write it. Also, why are we using a defense people have used for saying the n-word?

These lead me to believe that the filmmakers’ authority on racial strife comes from them watching a few episodes of The Boondocks and nothing else. It’s telling that at the same time they’re making this grand statement against prejudice, the movie is filled with stereotypes. The Latinos are all gangsters, with the exception of the one sheriff who, according to Scott, has a zillion kids. The majority of African Americans can be found in one of the opening scenes, grilling in their front yard and acting like gangsters. Of the prominent women on display, one is a femme fatale and the other spends most of the movie cowering in the corner while the others take action. The big exception is Margaret Cho as the sergeant, but she honestly feels like she’s phoning it in. Such confused politics could only come from the man behind Suicide Squad, David Ayer.

Oh, and just an aside, of all the main people of the production staff, all of them are dudes as white as fresh snow. Just saying.

Right, I’ve harped on the social aspect enough, let’s get to the more concrete elements. With the exception of Jakoby and few others, every character in this movie is a horrible person. This is easily Will Smith’s least likable role since Shark Tale and that character gambled away a gift from a friend that was supposed to get him out of debt. Scott Ward insults and belittles everyone around him, going as far to drag his partner to a site of civil unrest where cops are brutalizing orcs and makes him watch. That’s so unbearably cruel that I no longer care if he learns the error of his ways or the true meaning of Christmas or whatever. He and all the other rotten characters can wallow in their own ugliness for all I care.

That leaves us with the script itself and boy, isn’t that a mess. I mentioned the tired cliches, but there’s a lot of holes and abrupt cuts to potential stories. Scott is approached by Internal Affairs and given a tape recorder to get something incriminating on Jakoby. This tape recorder never comes into play. When Leilah is interrogating a household full of stereotypes… I mean witnesses, one of her goons menacingly approaches a baby to the cries and protests of onlookers. This is never addressed again. Throughout the last chunk of the movie, Jakoby keeps going on about how they’re all in a prophecy now. We are never made privy to what this prophecy says or if Jakoby just pulled this out of thin air. The most glaring of all is a pair of agents (Édgar Ramírez and Happy Anderson) from the Magic Task Force, which is basically the FBI of magical affairs, to investigate the wand and all the related incidents. They add nothing to the plot whatsoever and serve only to give exposition, including information they had no way of knowing. It came as no surprise to me that this script underwent rewrites because if felt like scenes were ripped out with abandon with the equivalent of back alley surgery to keep the movie together.

I’m honestly baffled by the positive buzz this is getting from audiences because this is one of the sloppiest movies I’ve seen in all year. If this is your jam, then more power to you. For me, this was such a lazy attempt at tackling social issues that I think it might cause some subtle damage to some movements. It decries societal prejudices, yet embodies and encourages stereotypes galore and basically undoes a lot of its own messages, like a frat boy pretending to be “woke” or an average Family Guy episode. But apparently it had enough magic to get a sequel, so come back next year to see if the filmmakers learned a dang thing.

Oh, and for a more in-depth look at how this fails at social commentary from an African-American perspective, here’s an article that tackles it beautifully.

Fun Tidbit: During their ride, Scott and Jakoby find what sounds like a heavy metal song on the radio, which Jakoby refers to as an “orcish love song” (and in fairness, that line is pretty funny). In actuality, the song is “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse.


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