Skip to main content

We’re not in a prophecy… We’re in a stolen Toyota Corolla.

Bright
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Is Bright shite? The lion’s share of the critics would have you believe so, including a quick-on-the-trigger Variety, which gave it one of the few good reviews but then pronounced it DOA in order to announce their intention for Will Smith to run for the Oval Office (I’m sure he’ll take it under advisement). I don’t really see how the movie can’t end up as a “success”; most people who have Netflix will at least be curious about an all-new $90m movie with a (waning, but only because he’s keeps making bad choices) major box office star. As to whether it’s any good, Bright’s about on a level with most of director David Ayer’s movies, in that it’s fast, flashy and fitfully entertaining, but also very muddled, mixed-up and, no matter how much cash is thrown at it, still resembles the kind of thing that usually ends up straight to video (making Netflix his ideal home).


Part of that is probably Ayer having little discernible grasp of cinematic style or scale, even when he’s supposedly dealing with epic events (his last two movies). He’s all about the “verité”, intimate character moments, keeping it real, putting his actors through the mill in order to garner “genuine” responses and emotions. All the kind of method nonsense that really counts for something when dealing with the environs of anti-superheroes or magical kingdoms dubiously transposed to an inner-city locale.


Daryl Ward: I need to know if you’re a cop first, or an orc first. I need you to say it.

As other reviews have pointed out, it’s immediately problematic that Ayer and hack screenwriter Max Landis opted to posit angry, violent, belligerent orcs as stand-ins for ethnic minority gangs (not that there aren’t still ethnic minority gangs in the picture); as concessions go, their listening to death metal (orcish music) rather than rap is a thin one and Nick Jackoby (Joe Edgerton) even has to comment at one point that orcs see him as a wannabe human while humans see him as an animal. Having an African American lead showing ignorance towards and intolerance of orc kind was no doubt considered cute, but the reversal seems merely clumsy and doesn’t help with the metaphor, particularly when the whiter-than-white elves (even with Edgar Ramirez as an FBI elf) with their “closed community” area of the city are shown as the one percent. This isn’t exactly subtle.


There are also fundamental problems with world building. Maybe it’s the Alien Nation factor, but I could never get it out of my head that this sharing of realms must somehow have been a relatively recent thing, rather than “coexisting since the beginning of time”. Jackoby being the first orc cop runs with the segregation theme in a very Alien Nation way, while the knowledge of other creatures and supernatural goings-on has the flavour of “we’re hearing about this for the first time”. Everyone wants a wand because it has the potential of offering life changing powers, provided it doesn’t kill you on touch, but if you have a wand, what’s to stop you from simply wielding it take ultimate control (or wielding power for untold good, even)? How many elves have wands, and what do they do with them (being regulated by law and having your wand officially confiscated isn't really going to have much impact if you simply decide to wave it to avoid being detected)? I guess you could carry this over into the one percent analogy, the maintaining of power through magical means, but Ayer and Landis take the premise so literally, channelling it into a functional conspiracy procedural with (unimpressive, design-wise) prosthetic dressings, they’re clearly hoping we’ll just accept the surface detail and respond to the fireworks, no questions asked.


I don’t think anyone familiar with Landis’ mashup output – unless it’s his first produced screenplay, the admittedly very decent Chronicle – was expecting much from this, but Bright is still more serviceable than the likes of American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein. It has certain factors immediately in its favour. Smith, as veteran cop Daryl Ward, is doing a part he’s done before in his sleep – and has clearly been trying to break away from, unfortunately hampered by his ability to recognise a good script when he sees it – age not discernibly wearying him, but it’s an agreeable part, and he’s still a very agreeable screen presence.


I’d swear Edgerton outright studied Mandy Patinkin in Alien Nation, as many of his choices and traits feel like a direct lift (the straight-laced cop, the culture shock comedy of opposites, the deadpan “not getting it” delivery). Edgerton deserves kudos, as like Patinkin before him, he immerses in the part to the extent that you can’t see the actor within. He and Smith have an easy rapport (although I’d wager everyone has an easy rapport with Smith – even Tommy Lee Jones does), even as they go through the motions of every getting-to-know-you macho clichés (you know, trying to be good people, not being brave but doing what you need to do anyway, that kind of shit). Their best interaction doesn’t come until the end, though, as Ramirez interviews the duo, Jackoby spilling every bean and then some while Ward waits patiently to give the official account.


One shouldn’t inflate Alien Nation by the inevitable comparisons, of course. It’s in no way a great movie, even if it had a decent premise (decent enough to spawn a short-lived TV series and a string of TV movies). What it undoubtedly had going for it, though, was that it was much easier to pin down in terms of canvas and concept. Bright has too much potentially going on, creates too many questions, certainly far too many for one of Landis’ negligible high-concept brainstorming (next up, desecrating dad’s An American Werewolf in London, because it has aged so badly, right?) Landis, who previously poured his Wikipedia research on secret government projects into American Ultra, now shows similar perspicacity with “just some illuminati shit”.


That shit being: a plan to resurrect the Dark Lord so he can slaughter billions and enslave the survivors to serve him (why not just enslave everyone? Lack of vision there, that or he’s been studying the Georgia Guidestones). There’s little else to glean in this regard (I’m guessing the Dark Lord himself is saved for the sequel), except that “2000 years ago, magic stopped him, and it will stop him again” and the process, naturally as it's the elite, involves ritual blood sacrifices. This is an alt-world without a Christ figure, but Landis evidently feels the need to include a similarly epoch defining event, albeit rather than the arrival of a saviour it’s the defeat of an enslaver.


Instead of the Dark Lord, we encounter his lieutenant in Noomi Rapace’s Leilah, one of the Inferni, pursuing Lucy Fry’s elf-in-distress Tikka. Rapace is essentially a Terminator elf, with about as much character shading as that description implies. That said, I’m not sure it matters; while she doesn’t have much to say, her entire career has probably been a build-up to eventually playing an elf.


With regard to the half-spun mythology, Ward is, in due course, revealed as a chosen one – a Bright, or wand wielder –  which is kind of inevitable, as Smith doesn’t get any truly great heroic moves in before he goes all magical on Leilah’s ass. But there’s a disconnect to making him super powered. When Keanu goes the full Neo (a role Smith turned down) there’s the thrill of the nobody made special. But Will Smith is already Will Smith; you can’t really boost the guy any higher, as no matter how many special skillz he inherits, his charisma factory will always lead the way (it’s why – controversial, I know – Hancock worked, as Smith’s down-at-heel burnout contrasted effectively with daring feats).


Ayers is at his best – unsurprisingly, given End of Watch is easily his best movie to date – with the rigours and routines and closed ranks of the police force. In particular, the shunning of Jakoby by his fellow officers and Ward’s reluctance to either actively support or denounce him. There are some well-staged and edited sequences, such as Ward deciding he isn’t going to bow to pressure from his peers (“old school “Rampart” shit”) and comes out shooting, but little sticks in the mind overall, any more than with the nocturnal mayhem of Suicide Squad. If his movies keep making money, he’ll no doubt keep making big budget ones, but I don’t think it’s his forte (even ones with big stars that aren’t – like Arnie in Sabotage and Keanu in Street Kings – don’t really play to his strengths). If he wants to tell macho, gritty stories, he should tell down-and-dirty, macho, gritty stories, rather than attempting to foist his sensibility on any old studio material that comes his way.


The first scene in Bright finds Ward’s wife asking him to “Go kill that fairy, please”, her protesting husband eventually going out to the birdfeeder and bashing the offending sprite to death with a broom (“Fairy lives don’t matter today”). It’s played for laughs as representing how casually these unfamiliar elements are assimilated into this world, but the problem is that it’s so clearly a back-engineered gag that pays no attention to coherence (are fairies sentient in this world? If so, Ward casually committed murder to general approval. If they aren’t, are they basically animals – it’s treatment is basically that of a mosquito, as you don’t generally go out and beat garden birds to death – so do people eat fairies? And what do fairies do, apart from consuming bird seed?)


Occasionally, there’s a line suggesting something more (“My ancestors killed them by the fucking thousands in Russia” boasts one office of his family’s aptitude for massacring orcs) and at one point we see a centaur cop on patrol, apropos nothing, but these elements just tend to add to the sense that Landis’ world makes little sense conceptually due to its facile overlay onto contemporary society (what is the elvish equivalent of science – magic? And if so, how would that affect their – and everyone else’s – everyday world?). At least, not if you seriously want to explore it, which Ayer and Landis evidently don’t. One might hope for more care and attention in the sequel(s), but I suspect, given the creative titans involved, it will be equally slapdash. Netflix has made its first blockbuster in Bright, and done it well, to the extent that it’s quickly processed junk food. There’ll be little trace of it in your mind after 24 hours.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…