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

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.