Thursday, January 4, 2018

Netflix's Bright, Shiny with Hope

One result of being highly visible is that it can make you an easy target. Netflix’s first big movie, Bright, has that distinction. Critics’ reviews are generally dismal: being tagged as the worst movie of the year certainly isn’t an accolade, after all. A mash-up of buddy cops, urban fantasy, and social commentary movie, utilizing a palette of garish colors and heavy-handed brush strokes--I get it. The thing is, my gut reaction is that I just don’t agree. I enjoyed the movie, and no, I don’t think it’s just a case of “that’s to be expected from a shallow guy like you.”

One reason Bright is a significant movie--perhaps the major reason--is that the concept is so captivating, so enchanting. Anyone who has been hooked by the fantasy genre will find that once an epic is completed, the question of “what about two thousand years later?” is a most fulfilling opportunity for speculation. Take The Lord of the Rings saga: it ends with the age of the rise of men. Move that forward to the rise of the age of science and technology, move that forward to an age that includes a modern-age Los Angeles, and a LOTR Middle Earth with Fords, Glocks, and elves and orcs is a rich stew that can be savored over time. Just drop something new into the pot over the days as the stew ages: elves working for the National Park Service or the Sierra Club, dwarves caring for the mountains as agents of the Department of the Interior, races other than men striving to curb the excesses of the Age of Men. 

One characteristic of Bright that is both a strength and weakness, as the movie was created, is that the audience is just dropped into the reality of the movie. The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy contains too-ample summaries of the world of the hobbits--and, what?, maybe four endings? Such a saga needed the footage to tie things up, but . . . On the other hand, we are dropped into the world of Bright, and there are definite WTF? moments where we have to actively work to figure out what’s going on, as best as we can. This is not a bad thing, although it can pull us out of the movie’s reality it we have to work too hard at our figuring. The other side of the coin is represented by the too-obvious moments of commentary on the bigotry towards the orcs, the race that backed the evil sorcerer who lost the magic wars two thousand years earlier. Really, any audience with half a brain won’t need cue cards to figure out the parallels. The questions that arise from the created reality of the movie are a perfect platform for the sequel and perhaps even an eventual TV series. Hopefully in subsequent expeditions into this reality, the franchise will be able to develop the intriguing questions that arise without being too obvious and insulting the intelligence of the audience.

Another love/hate aspect of Bright is the acting of the two main characters--Will Smith as the experienced human cop, and Joel Edgerton as the orc rookie cop. Smith plays the character we’ve seen before, as in Bad Boys, and provides his usual polished performance, yet we don’t really see anything new. It’s Will being Will, just as we’ve seen so many movies where Clint Eastwood was just doing his Clint thing. I think Will Smith was capable of moving into new territory within the experienced-cop characterization, but the interaction of writer, director, and actor just didn’t bear any new and exotic fruit. We got the old standby, which was good, no complaints, but also no real opportunities to shout Wow! out loud. Edgerton, on the other hand, was much fresher in his portrayal of the orc rookie seeking to make his place and to find himself. It’s ironic that Smith was the big name for the movie, yet his character was in many ways the supporting foil for Edgerton’s. That was a surprise and real plus for the movie.

The critics' analysis of the movie has been--if you’ll pardon the expression--fast and furious, which has been all to the good. Hopefully, the Urban Middle Earth reality of Bright can be more intelligently and adroitly explored in the upcoming sequel. Maybe the two cops can take a trip to the Sierra Nevadas, Smith with his family and Edgerton with a girlfriend. Maybe they can meet some old-school elves and dwarves. Maybe they can hear a prophesy, renounce it, and then discover that renunciation is only affirmation, new age style. Maybe we’ll experience the magic of a world awful in its possibilities made bright with the reality of rebirth, resurrection, and renewal. Everybody hopes so . . . so, Netflix, whatya gonna do?


  1. My hubby and I watched this recently. While I applaud the intended message I find that the current obsession with violence detracts from this and many other potentially wonderful movies. 90% of this movie was overtly violent. No thanks.

    1. You know, Yvonne, I'm going to write a second review of this movie. I had forgotten how limiting the endless flow of violence was--just one more reason why the movie didn't fulfill its potential. I like the concept, though. Thanks for mentioning this.