Founded twenty years ago as a physical media mail order rental company, Netflix moved into online distribution and content production in 2013, first with high-end dramatic serials and later with original independently produced first-run feature films, their success in challenging traditional broadcast and cable networks and film studios and distributors ensuring their future is bright provided their reputation for quality can be maintained.
Directed by David Ayer, known for the hard-hitting police thriller End of Watch, the remorseless World War II drama Fury and the misguided bungle of Suicide Squad, the latest Netflix production Bright reunites him with the star of that film, the guaranteed box office gold of Will Smith, teamed with Joel Edgerton of The Thing, Midnight Special and It Comes at Night as Los Angeles police officers Daryl Ward and Nick Jakoby.
His new partner the first Orc to serve in LAPD, Ward’s resentment of Jakoby is nothing the open hostility of his fellow officers in the division, ironically placing him in the position of defending what they refer to as “the diversity hire,” questioning Jakoby’s loyalty to humanity and the service even two thousand years after the defeat of the Dark Lord who was once their master.
A world of defined divisions, the heavyset aggressive Orcs are the working class while the elegant and articulate Elves have risen to the top, wealthy, well-dressed and holding positions of power in wider society and in the Magic Task Force headed up by Kandomere (Deliver Us From Evil‘s Édgar Ramírez), tracking down a sect within the elves seeking to resurrect the Dark Lord, a cult whose stronghold Ward and Jakoby have just stumbled upon…
Written by Max Landis whose resume encompasses the dark teen superhero antics of Chronicle, the knockabout hitman comedy Mr Right and the intricate shenanigans of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Bright has vision and ambition, the trappings of high fantasy taken down to the streets populated by gangs and dirty cops, strained race relations reimagined as different species, yet the end result is heavy handed and poorly structured.
The opening scenes repeating the “racism is bad” theme so it is less metaphor and more mantra, there is little point in trying to generate tension by putting Ward in a shootout when the viewer knows Will Smith isn’t going to die in the first act, yet once the weapons are out the remainder of the film becomes a running repetitive battle of machine guns and magic wands between the different factions.
Populated by stock characters devoid of personality, the diversity of species is not matched by gender, good elf and bad elf Tikka and Leilah (The Darkness‘ Lucy Fry and Prometheus‘ Noomi Rapace) omnipresent but devoid of substance, with only Margaret Cho’s brief supporting role as Sergeant Ching given marginal purpose.
With Smith playing yet another variation of the same fast-talking charmer who finds himself in over his head, the other half of the mismatched buddy cop double act is filled by awkward rookie Orc Edgerton doing his best in an underdeveloped role most notable for the makeup which renders him unrecognisable.
The various creatures created by a team of over fifty specialists including Harbinger Down and Skyline‘s Tom Woodruff Jr and Alec Gillis, the practical effects and sets justify the investment and the action scenes are as professional as would be expected, yet the tumbling slow motion shell cartridges and squirting blood announce themselves as digital additions, breaking the already tenuous spell.
The streets of Los Angeles familiar ground to Ayer who wrote Training Day, Dark Blue, Harsh Times and Street Kings as well as drawing on his experience in the United States Navy for the historically creative U-571, had he further developed Landis’ script Bright might have conjured more than than this, a shapeless mess devoid of urgency whose supposed magic never transfers to the screen.