Monday, 25 December 2017

Bright (2017) - Movie Review
The plot: In an alternate present, humans have co-existed with elves, orcs and fairies since the beginning of time. Police officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) has been paired up with rookie Orc cop Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) against his wishes, and the rest of the force isn’t too happy with having Jakoby either. On a routine call, they find a magic wand, one of the most powerful artifacts in their world. With the help of elf Tikka (Lucy Fry), Ward and Jakoby set out to stop Leilah (Noomi Rapace) from using the wand to bring back The Dark Lord and return the world into a state of mystical war like it was 2000 years earlier.

Will Smith hasn’t just left his charisma at home; he legitimately doesn’t want to be here. From how much he talks around the fantastical elements around him to his incredibly surly attitude throughout the entire film, there’s really no other explanation for why our main character(?) is this disinterested in what he’s doing. Edgerton benefits slightly from being the only person here with some semblance of a character, but try as he might to work through that makeup (credit is due for going the practical route there, at the very least), the guy feels too restrained to really make an impact. Lucy Fry as the young Bright flips around, says next to nothing and only does something when either Ward or Jakoby need her to; she is the epitome of a character by proxy and she barely registers as a result.
Ike Barinholtz as a racist cop hits vile without being remotely watchable, Édgar Ramírez at least has some physical presence but not much else as a Federal agent of the Magic Task Force, Noomi Rapace seems to be having fun with her role as the main villain and she’s at least able to be intimidating through sheer physicality, and Brad William Henke as the leader of an Orc street gang… you know, something about a white guy (makeup notwithstanding) talking about how the bad the po-lice are is more than a little awkward.

It’s rare that a film could be genuinely improved by some opening setup narration, because otherwise, this attempt at high fantasy in an urban setting falls really damn flat. We’re given a few surface details, like a conflict against ‘The Dark Lord’ that happened 2000 years prior and bits and pieces about the Orc mythos, but nothing that makes this feel like anything more than a rushed paint job over a standard story about police corruption. The opening credits admittedly do start the film off on the right foot, giving us a collection of street art that does surprisingly well at setting up certain cultural norms for this new and supposedly exciting setting, but the rest of it is just so plain and normalized and… well, lacking in any sense of fun. I get that grim and gritty crime stories aren’t the go-to place for hijinks, but just something, anything, that could lighten the tone a little bit and show at least some understanding of how surreal everything is to an outsider’s perspective would have helped. As much as I don’t have a lot of love for Underworld or even The Last Witch Hunter, at least they felt like the aesthetic was there for a reason. Here, it’s just a reskin meant to make this story look slightly more interesting than it actually is.

The inclusion of more fantastical elements, more so than serving as a means to soak the setting in something not-of-this-world, is mainly done here to aid the overall parable on racism and racial tensions. Or possibly class tensions, seeing as the Orcs are depicted as the street-level thugs and the Elves are shown as the opulent upper class. However, this script’s approach to unearthing racial attitudes is… skewed, to say the least. Rather than really telling any brand of truth around why certain attitudes exist, a large number of which are reliant on the fantasy background to begin with, the film seems far more comfortable just revelling in it. “Racism exists” is about as far as we get in terms of message, and even then, we are shown far more examples of those attitudes than anything that could question them.
Even when we do see characters try and do the decent thing, it’s not for any true moral reason; rather, it’s just to make sure that they don’t look bad by others. It’s all for show and the only change that comes about is through death. Other than that, no character shift occurs at any point. Ward is prejudiced from start to end, and Jakoby is noble but also in conflict with his own racial background from start to end; this film’s idea of progression is rather suspect.

Which leads us rather neatly into the story itself, which is yet another example of a film being far longer than it has any right to be. Not only that, when looking at the bare bones of the story, nothing feels like it fits. The beat cop story clashes rather loudly with the more fanciful elements like the magic wand and the concept of Brights, the only beings who can safely wield them (yet another aspect that is barely fleshed out), to the point where the film just completely shifts gear from one to the other midway through.
It’s also rather aimless, as our leads just stumble through the streets of LA and get caught up in things that are supposed to be important but never register as such. There’s no sense of tension to any of this because there’s no progression between plot points. Events happen, seemingly at random, and a lot of them feel like they’re here just to needlessly extend the running time, like the gang leader Poison (Enrique Murciano) who wants the wand so he can walk again or the crooked cops who also want the wand for themselves. Actually, now that I’ve written it out, it’s starting to make a bit more sense: This is a MacGuffin story. People want this thing, these other people don’t want them to have this thing, these people try to protect from everyone else; every beat in the story after a certain point plays out in this pattern. To say nothing of the ending, which feels like David Ayer trying to outdo Suicide Squad in terms of messy conclusions, right down to everyone just standing (or in some cases lying) around and talking about trying to stop a creature from entering their world, and then they do it in the space of a few seconds. huzzah

All in all, this is incredibly lame. The acting is disinterested through-and-through, the visuals are so murky that it’s hard to actually engage with, the world-building is embarrassingly subpar, and the writing in general tries for racial examinations but is so confused on what kind of story it wants to tell, and how, that it completely falls apart. Not even the admittedly decent action beats are enough to save this thing from the refuse bin. Despite my minority opinion on Suicide Squad and even some of Max Landis’ scripts like American Ultra, I’m not getting on the defensive for them this time; you both done fucked up. And you likely will again, considering this thing has already been greenlighted for a sequel… because it seems that we are completely incapable of learning anything from our mistakes anymore.

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