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Movie Review: Bright

Bright is a bit of a mess

Directed by David Ayer
On Netflix

I was excited during Bright's opening credits - shots of Los Angeles and graffiti, but all of the graffiti is fantasy themed, like something out of Colors but with elves and orcs and such. And then I saw Max Landis' name on the Screenplay By and I questioned whether I should keep on going. I mean, the guy seems to be a privileged monster and is being accused of some horrible things. But then I thought to myself, "self, in this post-#metoo world, where monsters are being driven into the light, where some of these monsters have had their fingertips on film projects, shouldn't I be able to objectively write about something written by one of these monsters?" I reminded myself I didn't let Brett Ratner's involvement in either Justice League or Wonder Woman tarnish the way I felt about those films. I still enjoy a lot of the films that were financed by the Weinsteins. Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is among my favourite films made by a piece of drain pipe hair blockage. I curl my toes and turn up the volume whenever I hear What's Going On. Separating the art from the monsters who made it can be done. People have done it forever. Errol Flynn, Mailer, Pollock, Chaplin, Sean Connery, John Lennon. They all did truly stomach churning things. Some recognized the monster within and fought it and came out redeemed. Others were monsters up to the end. 

And so I told that voice in my head to hush and put the knowledge of Max Landis and his  alleged crimes away and made the decision to judge this film objectively. I had already shut away the knowledge that this was David Ayer's first film since Suicide Squad. And it turns out that all of these mental gymnastics and self-observations and philosophizing were hardly worth it. Bright isn't the worst two hours I've ever spent watching a film. I've sat through Geostorm. But, man, it was a struggle.

It's not that Bright is a truly awful movie, it's more m'eh. The tonal shifts in this thing are all over the place, like it was edited by separate groups who had no communication with each other and then slapped together by a drunk who had never read the script. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's exciting. Sometimes it's a drama, sometimes it's a comedy. Sometimes Bright wants to be a statement about racism in America at the tail end of the 21st century's second decade. And sometimes it's incredibly dumb and deaf about its own racial overtones. Bright takes place in a world with fantasy elements, elves and orcs and dragons and fairies and magic wands. And occasionally Bright forgets all of that and characters will deny the existence of magic. Bright feels both like a celebration of the fantasy genre and action films and buddy cop films and then it turns on a dime and feels pandering. Some of the action scenes are competently put together and verge on exciting, others are video game cliches. The only thing more inconsistent is Will Smith's character's feelings on, well, anything. His family, his partner, their dilemma. One needs a spreadsheet to keep track of how he feels about anything at any given moment in this thing. 

The only consistencies in Bright are the make-up effects and Joel Edgerton. His performance is fantastic, but it's Joel Edgerton and that is what he does and it is the reason he is among the greatest screen actors of ever and ever. And the make-up effects are stellar, the orcs and the elves look amazing. 

So, what is Bright about? Let me unpack this for you. Bright takes place in our world but with fantasy elements. A dragon flies around the skyscrapers of Los Angeles, a fairy is trying to get into a bird feeder. Having chosen the wrong side in a Lord of the Rings type war a couple of millennia ago, orcs are at the bottom of the social strata. But only in Los Angeles. In one meandering monologue, an orc character talks about the good life he had in Miami. I confess - some of this movie confused me and hurt my brain. This was one of those times. Anyway. Orcs are at the bottom, economically and socially. Elves are at the toppermost of the uppermost, running things and such because reasons. And humans are in the middle or near the bottom or are at the top or wherever they need to be for any given scene. Again, some of this move hurt my head whenever I tried to figure it out. 

So, back to it. Will Smith plays Daryl Ward, a cop of indeterminate motivation and age, who is partnered with the first orc police officer, Nick Jakoby played by the mighty Joel Edgerton. Nick Jakoby is a character with some meat - he's honest, he wants to do his best, but he is ostracized by the orcs because he wants to be a cop and he is hated by the humans because he is an orc. If only Bright was as fully thought out as Nick Jakoby. Anyway. Stuff happens and they end up protecting an elf and a magic wand while on the run from corrupt cops, a Chicano gang, rebel elves, a federal magic task force, and orcs. Things blow up and people get shot and the movie quickly turns into David Ayer bingo with jokes that Zach Snyder would find inappropriate. "Fairy lives don't matter today", is a real, honest to goodness line in Bright. 

There is a scene that perfectly sums up the paradoxes and conflicting and clashing tones of Bright: Joel Edgerton as Nick Jakoby trying to make his way through a hallway filled with fellow cops, all mocking him and insulting him. A moment that captures the horrible dichotomy that is Nick's life. These are the people who he needs to depend on daily, the people who depend on him and they mock him and they have no respect for him. And then he turns around and he has a kick me sign stuck to his back. So many moments in Bright are like that kick me sign, ruining something great, something that doesn't need a punch line or a button. The film also feels it is necessary to constantly tell its audience what they should be feeling, what they should be thinking. Repeatedly. 

So, is Bright worth your time? Bright is dumb, like, incredibly dumb. It may hurt your brain if you try to analyze it and find yourself having to write about it. But, some of it's fun. It's not full on dumb fun, it's not that good. But it also isn't a complete waste of time. Bright is probably best enjoyed while checking out Instagram or playing Words With Friends or whatever. I gave Bright my full attention and it gave me a headache with its insistent dumbness. Look, there are plenty of things on Netflix that are worth your time and your full attention. The first season of The Punisher is great with the rare bump. Riverdale is cheesy fun. Stranger Things is sublime. This is quickly turning into an unpaid ad for Netflix. My point, if I can find it, is that if you're looking for a break from your binge of The Crown you could do worse than Bright. You could pay money to watch Geostorm.