The world we’re dropped into is similar with modern-day Los Angeles. The only difference is humans aren’t the only beings walking the land. Orcs and elves are a part of society’s fabric with the orcs representing thuggish, troublesome minorities while the elves represent the wealthy higher class. One sequence involves a trip to a ritzy shopping district called Elftown, which is clearly an alternate version of Beverly Hills.
Meanwhile, humans are seen scattered throughout the mix in the middle and often prejudicial towards both groups. We follow Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) throughout the film and explore this world through his daily routine as a local police officer. After returning to the job after being shot by an orc, he’s forced to be partnered with the department’s sole orc officer as a “diversity hire.” This orc is named Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). Ward isn’t exactly thrilled, but he’s willing to accept this pairing because he’s simply here to just do his job and care for his family.
Ward’s fellow officers, upset with the orc’s presence in the department, construct a plan to get rid of Jakoby for good, but events coincidently unfold that place Ward and Jakoby in the middle of another discovery: magic. They come across a wizard known as a “bright” — a magically-infused being gifted with the ability to hold and use powerful magic wands — and she just so happens to be in possession of one. What follows is an entertaining, yet messy, adventure between the trio that eventually has other police officers and street gangs (human and beast) hot on their tail.
One major problem this film has comes from the script’s tonal inconstancies, leading to an identity issue. At times you’re hit with some high-tempo action — which is shot extremely well — that includes bloody gunplay, fist fights and car chases that deliver on all fronts of entertainment. However, the comedy that’s blended in-between isn’t that great. There are a number of jokes that land, mostly from Smith, but for every successful crack, a series of forced and unfunny quip attempts follow. It almost takes you out of whatever Landis was trying to get you to buy, but luckily for us, Ayer’s great sense of direction for riveting action saves the sequence from complete failure.
The relevant social commentary is present as well, but never really hits home in the way you’d expect. The parallels to the real world’s issues (especially Los Angeles) of race and police brutality quickly get lost in the world of apparent magic that never really gets explained. Time is a factor, it seemed, because once the world is established in the first 30 minutes or so, the story moves along in a way that feels rushed. You’re introduced to one thing, then immediately taken across the city to learn about another without too much explanation as to why. The intentions are in a good place, the execution is just sloppy. This might leave you confused as to why point A moves to B in the way it does. This movie never completely establishes what it wants to be.
The big bad of the film, an elf named Leilah (Noomi Rapace), constructs a plan that’s fairly simple but it’s something you’ve literally seen a million times: find this weapon (the wand) to bring about an even greater threat to the world to rule the planet. Blah-blah-blah. This great threat that we never see goes by the name of “The Dark Lord” and that’s about all you learn about him or her. There’s interesting mythology behind the idea, but Landis never really explains what this Dark Lord even did to warrant such a name.
As mentioned before, the ideas and mythology of this world in Bright begs you to wonder what’s behind each corner. You’re given teases of an interesting world that never really amounts to much. The performances in this movie are fine. Smith is awfully similar to his Bad Boys character of Detective Mike Lowry — which plays off great in this film — and provides a passable performance considering what he’s given to work with. You can tell he’s having fun with the character. Edgerton, because he’s portraying an Orc, is often difficult to read. His performance isn’t awful it’s just hard to tell if Orcs are supposed to be awkward and socially odd, or if Egerton’s struggling to move due to the heavy (yet impressive) makeup.
Bright definitely has its issues, almost all of them dealing with the fantasy reality it’s trying to create, but it works well enough as an average “buddy cop” action flick. If you’re looking for a movie on Netflix to kickback and not think too hard about, this is definitely the movie for you. You won’t find any inner complexity’s about the meaning of life here, but you can turn your brain off for 2 hours and have some dumb fun with the adventure.