At first glance, Bright seemed batsh*t crazy, and the combination of director David Ayer, who specializes in down and dirty action movies particularly of the cop variety, and screenwriter Max Landis, who specializes in “this plus that” story pitches, seemed crazy enough to create the perfect storm of good-bad cinema. But Bright is not good-bad, it’s just bad-bad, too serious and boring to make the most of its own insane premise.
Bright is very disappointing if you, like me, were expecting a fun if insane bad-idea-turned-entertaining, but it isn’t as actively upsetting and tasteless as, say, The Bad Batch. Bright is bad, and it is shockingly boring for a movie that involves fairies, orcs, and magic wands, but it’s just bad in that “why is everyone taking this so seriously?” way. It’s not bad in the “I wish they never made this” way. Bright is a waste of time—did I mention that I am VERY DISAPPOINTED?—but even the incredibly clumsy and heavy-handed racial allegory is more frustrating than rage-inducing.
Yes, that’s right, Bright is a racial allegory. It’s basically Zootoopia, except with swears and elves. In hindsight, we should have seen it coming, what with how everyone was sneering at Orc Cop (Joel Edgerton, working his ass off through incapacitating makeup) in the trailer, but there is no being prepared for how graceless is Bright’s metaphor-making. Zootopia is incredibly well thought out, and one of its allegorical strengths is that no animal group within its world directly computes to a real-life counterpart, keeping the mess of real-world politics out of their metaphor.
Bright, on the other hand, has people being racist toward orcs and Will Smith saying lines like “Fairy lives don’t matter today”, but it still has actual racial biases that exist in our real world. There are orc gangs, but there are also regular street gangs in this alternate magical Los Angeles which are made up of Latinx characters. If you’re going to do a racial allegory, that’s fine, but please at least ensure you’re not also reinforcing the very stereotypes your allegory is trying to shame. I assume that the excuse will be that this Bright is an alternate reality but it is still grounded in our reality, and thus inherits our biases, plus all these other magical biases, too, but I would counter that the story needs to be as focused as possible, and this just divides focus and weakens the central metaphor.
What is so frustrating about Bright is the visible outline of the movie it could have been. Ayer does street-level action SO WELL, which suits to the plot, which is more or less End of Watch but with a magic wand. (Although it must be noted that Bright is incredibly poorly lit, so sometimes action is hard to track, which is not usually a problem with Ayer.) And one of the frequent problems with Max Landis scripts is a lack of commitment to whatever f*cknuts high concept he’s sold this time, but Ayer is fully committed to Bright as a concept. (The other problem with Max Landis scripts is Max Landis.) But it’s all so serious, when Bright is begging to be an American Ultra-style action comedy. It’s ELVES and MAGIC WANDS, why is everyone so grim?!
But grim they are. Noomi Rapace, as the villainous elf Leilah, is the only person who seems to understand she’s in a B-movie, and tunes her performance appropriately. Everyone else, though, is acting like they’re in a magic-infused Scorsese movie, which is just the wrong tone for this nonsense with magic wands and wizards—called “brights” in slang. The combination of super serious tone and batsh*t premise should make for an enjoyably bad movie but somehow Bright just comes out f*cking boring, which is a bummer. I was really hoping that Bright would be an eleventh-hour challenger for the crown of Best Worst Movie of 2017 (current holder, Geostorm). But Bright is too boring to be the Best Worst Movie of 2017. It might just be the Worst Worst Movie of 2017.
Bright is currently available on Netflix, who spent NINETY MILLION DOLLARS on this mess.