Mythos and humor are front and center in the Netflix film Bright, from director David Ayer and screenwriter Max Landis. Neither theme really succeeds in this futuristic buddy cop genre film.
As I walked in to my screening, I tried to remember what David Ayer had directed or written previously. I remember him for End of Watch which I found to be a particularly engaging film. I also remember his script from S.W.A.T.
Mark two for the cop genre column.
Then I started thinking about what else he had directed and it hit me like a freight train off its rails: Suicide Squad. It was with this realization that cemented my initial reaction to his $90 million – budgeted Netflix Original Film, Bright: it’s not very good.
Max Landis’s story is set in a future Los Angeles, though we don’t know the year. In this future, Los Angeles continues to be the very melting pot of cultures that it is today. Only in this future, the primary cultures are human, orc and elves. Centaurs and dwarves also make up a minor part of the population. L.A. is divided up in into sectors, while graffiti punctuates much of the urban landscape.
In this future, Will Smith plays Officer Daryl Ward. His partner is Nick Jakoby, the first Orc on the police force played by Joel Edgerton. From the opening frame, there is an air of distrust between the humans and the orcs, which should naturally make for an intriguing drama. And, the film starts out that way.
However, the story diverts away from that tone almost immediately after they start their beat.
Filled with several familiar themes that permeate traditional cop dramas, the film tries to blend the mythos surrounding orcs and elves of the film and the discomfort between our two heroes by using awkward humor. Mr. Smith and Mr. Edgerton are good sports about it, especially Mr. Edgerton. Noomi Rapace plays Leilah, who is seeking a magic wand that no human can touch, except for that rare one-in-a-million human, a Bright. The wand is as rare as the human who can wield it. Because of its magical powers, everyone wants it. Tika (Lucy Fry) is the elf who is trying to prevent the wand from falling into the wrong hands and when she and the wand turn up on a routine call for Ward and Jakoby, their night becomes anything but routine.
I will give Mr. Ayer credit for something. For the cast members who were required to wear heavy makeup or prosthetics, he is able to pull out performances that would elude other directors. This is a first for Mr. Edgerton and his performance extended well above his pay grade. Both Ms. Rapace and Mr. Ramirez disappeared into their makeup so much so that it took me a moment to recognize them both. This is as much a compliment to Mr. Ayer as much as it is to the storied design and make-up prosthetics team of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr of Amalgamated Dynamics. Their team, who has worked on the Alien films, the later Predator films and numerous other films, does an excellent job with the make-up and appliances worn by the cast.
The story could have benefitted from the long-form television series format that Netflix is known for. I was more interested in the environment than I was in why the wand was so important. The long-form would have given the characters, the story and the environment time to breathe. The fact that Netflix has already ordered a sequel says that they have confidence in this product.
If you look at Ayer’s filmography, his prior projects all touch on aspects that this film reflects. This marriage between Landis and Ayer, between Smith and Edgerton and between procedural and mythos should have been a recipe for success. And, despite a huge price tag, it misses. Bright is Alien Nation meets End of Watch and does neither very well. As a matter of fact, I think Ayer reused a location from End of Watch, reflecting the safe, predictable nature of the film.
Streaming on Netflix worldwide Friday, December 22, 2017, Bright has not been rated by the MPAA.