What exactly is the value of watching ‘Bright’? What deters us from hitting the ‘Home’ button, and instead re-watching ‘Breaking Bad’ (or anything else) in just another click? What is it about that passive position you’re trapped in, the one where you’re thinking “It’s alright. It could be worse” – which is a true fact, but is also a terrible curse to find yourself under. So what if ‘Bright’ could’ve been worse? This isn’t a compliment. Regardless of its potential greater worseness, ‘Bright’ remains just as dull, desperate and so, so dumb as any other terrible genre fodder found in the bargain bin in backlog waste disposal of a long abandoned Blockbuster. So, when I saw the first trailer, I thought that this would be an aggravating, outdated, pseudo-political train-wreck of a dumpster fire, while the truth is that the actual film is mildly better. Congratulations.
What is better about it? It’s funny. I laughed a lot. Though the film itself isn’t a comedy, there’s plenty of dialogue to garner a hefty chuckle and burst of laughter – mind you, nothing side-splitting. To your surprise, given that Will Smith is the main star, Joel Edgerton is the main entertainer – though that should be no surprise as every great and terrible movie he’s in, he’s endlessly excellent. More often than not, Smith will sour the film’s best scenes while Edgerton only ever lightens them.
Riggs and Murtaugh, from ‘Lethal Weapon’, still have the crown on good(ish) cop, bad(ish) cop banter, and Jakoby (Edgerton) and Ward (Smith) do not. Jakoby and Ward have the same routine, with Jakoby being more honest and sincere and Ward being the cynical, ‘I don’t wanna work with this guy’ archetypal action pawn – to which Ward undergoes the “through the narrative he will learn to overcome his differences!” shtick. Though I’m never convinced that Ward even deserves to be Jakoby’s friend since Jakoby is nothing but a hard-working friend (if not a little too wet behind the ears), while Ward is nothing but relentlessly cruel.
Anyone thinking that ‘Bright’ is going to be about race isn’t getting the discussion they might have hoped for. At first it seems interesting and odd to create and centre the theme of acceptance around Ward, played by a black actor, coming to accept Jakoby, an orc/minority, played by a white actor. There’s the obvious idea that it’s not about race of the skin but of our creed – which might play a little better if the film wasn’t intent on creating the most one dimensional Mexican gangsters of all time. I would propose that the fact Jakoby is played by a white actor doesn’t have anything significant to say about race and understanding one another (otherwise, this film is going to get incorrectly decoded in a million ways), rather it creates a re-direction towards the main political topic being discussed – the class system.
The lore of this world – as told in an incredibly lazy, exposition snooze inducer of an introduction – is that the city or world? The film never extends beyond the vague Chicago-esque area divided by orcs, humans and elves (and maybe some others; it doesn’t matter, this is all that you need to know to get you through this). The Elves are the rich kids, the Humans are a vague in-between of kinda poor but kinda ok, depending on where you live, and the Orcs are considered a lesser species. I doubt the following subtext was intentional since nothing else in the script seems to indicate any further parallels to this, but the lore of the world might be considered as similar to our history in the post world war one era. After the war, the German’s were given the harshest punishment and treatment by the rest of the world, and so too is this the case for these Orcs, 2000 years after the “big war”. On a simpler, more likely note, one could infer that the writer Max Landis is asking us to move on from the grudges we bare to each other – which is the most redemptive idea he has to offer. (this isn’t to say that this idea deals exclusively with heritage and nationality, but with all the differences we share).
But hey, this doesn’t have anything to do with the plot and story of the movie. I could go on, addressing what all this could mean in today’s world, but I’d quickly run out of places to go since the topics and ideas seem to fade once the ‘return of the dark lord/end of days’ plot kicks in (the thing that everyone is fighting over). By the twenty minute mark, the film becomes a bore of action fueled fantasy. ‘Bright’ grows desperate to keep your attention with it’s poor plot and cheap script. Things explode and die and come back again and blood is shed; there are territory wars and mystical vampire looking things and there’s the world’s easiest mystical prophecy you could predict.
And I just can’t let this one particular scene go. It’s the perfect representation of the film’s stupidity. Jakoby is walking into a hallway of officers in the police station. It’s a short scene, less than a minute long. Everyone in front of him starts laughing as he walks down the corridor – it’s impossible to know why they’re laughing because there’s nothing to see; you’re looking at him from the same angle the other officers are. So, then he turns around and the joke becomes apparent. He has a “kick me” sign on his back. Now, this is a truly pathetic joke had it made any sense in the first place, but more importantly, do I have to be mentally insane for this joke to make any sense? They’re laughing at the sign on his back while standing in front of him. My confusion isn’t just at the insane logic of the scene, but at how this went unchecked and unquestioned by so many people participating in the production that this made it into the final cut. This is how basic, unpolished and thoughtless ‘Bright’ is.
The main plot isn’t worth mentioning. A hostage, macguffin escort mission, that’s it; a lazy set up for shoot outs and action scenes where the only thing connecting each scene. There isn’t an idea that relates to anything which makes sense or that we could relate to, instead they’re connected by the repetition of a) the mute macguffin “bright” character that needs protecting (despite having the miraculous ability to help but chooses the least opportune to do so), b) Jakoby fumbles around and screws up, c) Wards steps in and saves him to which d) Jakoby learns a lesson on becoming a better cop, or is reminded of his shortcomings from earlier. Oh, and he will be reminded of his history of mistakes, a lot. Landis never fails to remind you that Jakoby screwed up and owes Ward a huge debt, and my god you’re going to laugh when that’s paid off. We are constantly poked to remember that this is a narrative of him learning to overcome his errors. The film never changes, it’s just a rerun of the same heavy handed messages spread over numerous different settings.
It feels like David Ayer just wanted to make up for his mistakes on ‘Suicide Squad’ by playing it safe and reverting into his default film-maker mode, mashing the fantasy elements with his ‘End of Watch’, ‘Harsh Times’ and ‘Street Kings’ blueprint, meanwhile Max Landis accidentally wrote a script that left in the instructions from the manual of “how to write a script for dummies” and somehow managed to dumb it down even further.
Written by Joseph McFarlane
Rating – 4/10
Question: What is your favourite David Ayer film?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
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