Bright Review
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First some good news: Netflix’s straight-to-streaming Will Smith vehicle Bright isn’t as apocalyptically bad as many of the reviews would have you believe. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t read them. Even director David Ayer has praised the creativity and passion behind some of the pans. Whether there’s some animosity leftover from Suicide Squad or exhaustion with Netflix’s “throw everything at the wall to see what sticks” approach to programming, this seems to be yet another case of a severe gap between critical consensus and the general audience.

The bad news, of course, is that Bright isn’t really that good, either. The setting is straightforward urban fantasy. After a massive fantasy battle millenia ago, the three races of elves, humans, and orcs coexist in that exact pecking order. Officer Daryl Ward (Smith) is reluctantly partnered up with the first orc cop in the LAPD, Nick Jacoby (Joel Edgerton). When a routine patrol turns up a rare and dangerous magic wand that can only be used by a natural magician called a “bright,” they end up on the run from several factions who want it for themselves.

Now a certain segment of the audience is going to read that synopsis and immediately tune out. That’s understandable. Urban fantasy requires a pretty deft hand to avoid coming off as ridiculous, and Bright could hardly be described as subtle. Others will be turned off by the film’s muddy racial metaphor, as on-the-nose speeches about how “orcs are people, too,” are undercut by some pretty stereotypical depictions of ordinary humans. Add to that an uneven script by Max Landis, a guy who’s recently been in the media for potentially appalling behavior, and the backlash is understandable.

But that reaction misses some solid performances, decent action scenes, and a world built around a broad, but potentially interesting conceit. Edgerton draws sympathy as the good-hearted if hopelessly naive orc, and somewhere around the halfway point, Noomi Rapace shows up to steal scenes as a wonderfully sinister elvish assassin. She gets to play in some of the film’s best action and effect sequences, which are unfortunately far less prevalent than it needed.

If you can get past the film’s shortcomings, which have been extensively detailed elsewhere, there’s also lot of potential in Bright’s unique social perspective. Little details like the graffiti that punctuates the opening credits or the orc clan’s fusion of gangland and heavy metal culture are imaginative elements that give the film some unique texture. We only get a few scenes with the elves, which largely paint them as a pale-skinned top-1%-ers (like I said, not subtle), so there’s room to grow there, too.

For the fans, there’s more good news: Netflix has ordered a sequel to be written and directed by Ayer (Landis is understandably absent this time). There’s definitely room for one, and with Ayer’s hit-or-miss track record, there’s always the chance that he’ll make better use of the material’s potential. For critics, well, at least there’s always some fun to be had with a target this rich.

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