With Bright realised on a chunky budget in the region of $90 million, it’s clear that streaming service Netflix is determined to make its mark in the strange new world of on-demand, watch-when-you-want, original content home entertainment. Yet, there’s still something a little disconcerting about watching something that is ostensibly a ‘feature film’ - especially a big scale fantasy movie - on a domestic TV screen without having had the opportunity to see it, as nature intended, on a big multiplex cinema screen first. But this, clearly, is the future although on the evidence of this curiously uninvolving supernatural fantasy mash-up starring Will Smith, the future’s not necessarily looking too… well, Bright.
One of the benefits of streaming services branching out into movie content is that films like Bong Joon-Ho’s charmingly bizarre Okja (another Netflix offering), which profit-hungry Hollywood studios wouldn’t touch with a lightsaber, are financed and finding an appreciative audience. Bright, too, might be a hard sell for the majors more because of its muddy script, clunky action sequences and oddly unengaging tone and brittle performances. It’s a shame because there are some interesting ideas here but poor world-building, woolly exposition and, frankly, far too much swearing, turns this grim, ugly take on the likes of Training Day into an unsatisfying and rather tiresome chore well before the titles roll.
In an ‘alternative present day’, humans live uneasily alongside orcs, elves, centaurs, fairies, dragons (we get a quick glimpse of one moving across the skyline in one sequence) as well as other supernatural beasties in the aftermath of a centuries-long war between the species. Now these bizarre creatures are attempting to integrate themselves into modern society (you can see where this is going; subtle it ain’t) and LAPD cop Daryl Ward (Smith), easing towards retirement and looking for a quiet life, is partnered with keen orc cop Nick (Edgerton, wasted under a wedge of blotchy prosthetics). Their relationship hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts with Daryl recovering from a gunshot injury and Nick failing to catch the gunman. Daryl reluctantly agrees to a scheme by his slimy superiors to get Nick, the first orc cop in the department, fired but the pair quickly become embroiled in a messy, often-incoherent plan by an organisation called the Shield of Light, to bring about the return of the Dark Lord and plunge the world into chaos. They meet up with an elf named Tikka (Fry) - she’s no chicken - and face off against wiry, balletic assassin elf named Leilah (Rapace), who is desperate to get her hands on a powerful magic wand that has fallen into the possession of the clearly out of their depth cops.
After a promising, gritty start, Bright quickly slips its moorings and starts to drift away. The story meanders further into the fantastical, which immediately distances it from its unlikely but initially promising core scenario. By the time the elves, wands and assorted magical gubbins start working their way into what we might generously describe as the plot, it’s hard to escape the feeling that something potentially genuinely different has been thrown away and replaced by something we’ve seen a little too often before. There’s no-one to really root for or care about; the world is dark and grey and so is its population and even the usually reliable and bouncy Smith, clearly keen to move away from that very screen persona, doesn’t really cut it as a ruthless, foul-mouthed jaded cop. A few reasonable action scenes and some low-key visual flourishes manage to rebuild momentum in the sluggish second half, but never enough make the story’s conceit especially gripping or relatable, despite (or because of) its ham-fisted moralising and relentlessly slate grey colour palette.
Bright isn’t really anything like as bad as some of its damning early reviews have suggested (Netflix has already ordered a sequel so they, at least, have some faith in the film’s vision) and the chances are you’ll find yourself reasonably entertained and intrigued by the initial premise. But the world we’re being asked to engage with is never completely believable and the buddy movie clichés and heavy handed social commentary become uneasy bedfellows in a schizophrenic, undisciplined movie that eventually deteriorates into a more sweary but less likeable version of the Harry Potter series. More Dim than Bright, in all honesty…
BRIGHT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER / SCREENPLAY: MAX LANDIS / STARRING: WILL SMITH, JOEL EDGERTON, NOOMI RAPACE, LUCY FRY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW