Kevin: If you have a Netflix account, it is likely that you are one of the tens of millions of subscribers in the last few weeks who have watched “Bright,” Will Smith and director David Ayer’s attempt to prove they could make a movie without studio interference that’s still even worse than their previous “Suicide Squad” (spoiler alert: they succeeded). While Netflix’s first foray into the world of big-budget blockbusters is being heralded as a huge success – with a sequel already in development – we still have no idea how many of these supposed viewers actually sat through the entire film, and how many either had it going on in the background while folding laundry or turned it off after five minutes and watched “Yoga Hosers” instead.
But if you are one of those who did manage to complete the endurance test known as “Bright,” you may want to go back and compare it to the Ayer-scripted 2001 hit “Training Day” (also currently on Netflix), as both movies share a lot of similarities: seedy Los Angeles slums, morally conflicted heroes, deep-seated police corruption, stereotypical gangbangers, and a breathtakingly absurd third act twist that defies all logic and believability:
(Major spoilers to follow)
The $90 million Netflix original posits an alternate fantasy world in which elves are the 1 percent who hold all the power in society, orcs are the exploited underclass, and Fairy Lives Don’t Matter. Seriously I’m not trying to make a Black Lives Matter joke, Will Smith’s character actually says that before beating a tiny fairy to death with a broom, and no one seems to have a problem with this. It’s unclear where humans and their existing ethnic and demographic hierarchies stand in this universe, since most of the humans we see are either cops or Latino gangbangers (plus Joe Rogan, whose podcast is apparently the go-to source for news), but apparently dwarves also exist even though I don’t think we ever see one. We do briefly get a shot of a dragon flying in the sky in the background, which I guess is not an unusual occurrence since no one mentions it and we never see any dragons again.
(Also since this is supposed to be an alternate reality, I found it odd that the movie “Shrek” apparently exists. Or, more likely, Smith ad-libbed his line about a particularly ugly orc needing to “get the fuck back to Fiona,” and no one wanted to tell him that his joke didn’t work in the context of the film. Although the fact that I’ve just spent more time thinking about the central premise of “Bright” than either Ayer or screenwriter Max Landis should tell you all you need to know about why the film sucks.)
I will say that while the world-building is a mess, the movie at least gets by for a while on the novelty of being a $90 million, R-rated, original sci-fi movie with a goofy premise that is completely played straight (there is even a shootout in a strip club, which I found almost quaint considering that used to be an action movie staple). At first the movie looks like it is going to be almost a remake of both “Alien Nation” and Ayer’s superior “End of Watch,” except this time with Will Smith teamed up with a new orc partner played by Joel Edgerton, in make-up that makes him look like Terry Bradshaw covered in green mold.
Edgerton’s fellow human officers are not keen on this new addition, since orcs apparently sided with the vanquished Dark Lord 2,000 years earlier and have been treated with suspicion ever since, kind of like the celebs who sided with Katy Perry over Taylor Swift in their similarly epic feud. The rank-and-file LAPD officers also see Edgerton’s orc as an unqualified diversity hire, and while this is presented in the movie as a prejudiced viewpoint, from what we see he actually does seem to be a pretty shitty and incompetent cop, including letting an orc who blasted Smith with a shotgun at the beginning of the film get away.
After Smith returns to the force (it’s really unclear how long he had been partnered with Edgerton before he was shot, how long he has been out of commission, or even the extent of his injuries since he appears completely unaffected), his fellow human cops (including one played by Margaret Cho?!) practically accuse him of being a traitor to his kind for riding with an orc. Smith then rightfully points out that he doesn’t like it any more than they do but he has no say in who he is assigned with, which should be the end of it, except it feels like he has a version of this conversation three more times with various people in the movie.
(Maybe this is a sign that Netflix realized that many of the people watching at home would have more distractions around them than if they were in a theater, which perhaps accounts for the fact that characters are constantly restating what has been going on in the plot up that point and what the stakes are throughout the movie. Hell there’s even an excruciatingly long scene at the very end where Smith and Edgerton talk to some feds and recount in painstaking detail everything we have just witnessed for the last two hours.)
Either way, whatever promise “Bright’s” storyline held soon evaporates, and the film turns into a tedious slog as Smith and Edgerton spend one long night running from various orcs, elves, and humans in order to protect a special elf named Tikka and a magic wand that can only be wielded by a rare and awesome being known as a Bright. If you haven’t already figured out that Will Smith is this rare and awesome being then apparently you have never seen a Will Smith film or any other film in general before, but for some reason the movie treats this as a surprise even though it completely tips its hand near the very beginning by having an oracle-type character describe Smith’s cop as “blessed.”
However, this supposed “twist” isn’t even the most ridiculous turn of events in “Bright.” That would be reserved for the scene in which Smith and Edgerton are captured by the Fogteeth orc clan, who apart from being mythological creatures are pretty much indistinguishable in dress and behavior from the Latino gangbangers featured in “Bright,” as well as pretty much every other David Ayer-written/directed film such as “Dark Blue,” “Harsh Times,” “Street Kings,” and “Sabotage.”
What follows is a torturously drawn-out sequence in which the orc gang leader Dorghu demands to know where the wand is, to which Smith and Edgerton respond with some variation of “There is no wand,” “What wand?,” or “It’s up your ass.” However, we the viewers know there is a wand and would like to hurry this scene up and get this crappy movie closer to the end, but instead we have to sit for what feels like an eternity and watch Smith and Edgerton deny the existence of the wand and get severely beaten in return (by the way I should note that apparently orcs have super strength, not that this ever pays off in any way in the film).
Finally Dorghu says that his son is going to “get his colors” tonight by executing Edgerton, but after holding a rifle on him the kid says he can’t go through with it. Why? Well in an earlier flashback Edgerton revealed that while chasing the orc who shot Smith, he accidentally apprehended this teenage orc who was tagging a wall, and let him go before the cops got there. Wow, what are the odds that in a city the size of Los Angeles that this kid who he helped earlier would also just happen to be the one with the power to spare his life? I’d say pretty fucking miniscule, and would suggest writing a more believable way to get our heroes out of their predicament, but apparently Ayer is so in love with this narratively convenient twist of fate that he recycled it from his script for the Antoine Fuqua-directed “Training Day.”
If case you’ve forgotten, early in the film Ethan Hawke stops an attempted rape of a Hispanic teen in an alley by two drug addicts. After she flees he notices she left behind a small pink wallet, which he puts in his pocket and for some reason keeps with him throughout the entire movie. That turns out to be a very smart move, as later on he’s set up by Denzel Washington and is about to be executed by a group of Latino drug dealers. Right before they pull the trigger they search his pockets and find the pink wallet, and wouldn’t you know it, in a city of 13 million people, that girl just happens to be the cousin of the gang leader who is currently holding a shotgun to Hawke’s head!
Maybe it’s not so far-fetched though, I mean there probably aren’t that many Hispanics in Los Angeles, right? Either way, even the movie is forced to acknowledge how unlikely – to the point of being miraculous – this turn of events is considering how many times the characters say some version of “Yo this is some crazy shit ese.” For some reason most viewers let the fact that this is one of cinema’s most absurd deus ex machinas slide, perhaps because the rest of the movie is so compelling, which maybe is why Ayer thought he could get away with it again 16 years later.
But not only is it still ridiculous, the similar reveal in “Bright” is also pointless since even though the teenage orc can’t go through with executing Edgerton, his dad shoots him instead, after which Tikka immediately uses the wand to bring him back to life. So this “surprise” reveal didn’t even matter, you could have entirely cut out the whole subplot about the teenage orc and it would have had zero impact on the story!
It’s amazing that in a movie that features elves, magic wands, and Joe Rogan as a trusted news source that this is the most fantastical element of “Bright,” but I guess that’s the power of David Ayer. Either way, the movie ends with Edgerton’s character finally getting the respect he’s always wanted from the gross low-life orcs who tried to murder him, while once again The Dark Lord has been vanquished, although as is typical for this movie we never actually get to see this supposedly awesome threat.
Maybe they will save that for the sequel, which with Ayer again at the helm will I’m sure feature more cops vs. otherworldy gangbangers, some interesting ideas that are never explored, confusingly shot action scenes, and at least one unbelievable twist of fate saving our heroes from certain death. I can’t wait to have it on the TV while I’m updating my fantasy football roster. Although maybe they’ll show Margaret Cho getting gunned down in slow motion again, that was kind of funny.