Netflix is the proven home for big, quality TV series, but the company is still building itself into becoming a movie making behemoth. It’s definitely something they are wanting to do though as they are throwing increasing amounts of money at their original films in the hope of recreating the next big Hollywood blockbusters. One of those big films that was seen as the potential next big thing for the studio was the Will Smith fronted Bright, helmed by Suicide Squad directed David Ayer.
While Suicide Squad was seen by many as an unmitigated disaster, a lot of the criticism could have been due to some terrible studio mandated edits that were made to the film. With Bright – which boasts a high-concept Max Landis penned script about an alternative Los Angeles in which fantasy creatures and magic are real – there were hopes that this movie would be sort of a redemptive moment for Ayers. After building his career with gritty cop thrillers like End of Watch and Training Day (which he wrote), his pivot into the genre filmmaking was not a good one, but maybe it would go better if those two filmmaking approaches were merged? Except, based on the early critical responses (published by /Film), it seems this movie will not be that triumphant return to form for Ayer or the success Netflix had hoped it would be, as the reviews have been mostly, well… see for yourself:
There’s boring, there’s bad, and then there’s “Bright,” a movie so profoundly awful that Republicans will probably try to pass it into law over Christmas break. From the director of “Suicide Squad” and the writer of “Victor Frankenstein” comes a fresh slice of hell that somehow represents new lows for them both — a dull and painfully derivative ordeal that that often feels like it was made just to put those earlier misfires into perspective. The only thing more predictable than this high-concept police story is the idea that a year as punishing as 2017 would save the worst for last. At least “The Emoji Movie” owned up to the fact that it was just putting shit on screen; at least “The Emoji Movie” had the courtesy to dress it up in a bowtie.
Alas, the finished product, though plenty embarrassing, isn’t quite involving enough to merit the kind of pile-on mockery that greeted Ayer’s DC Comics abomination Suicide Squad. Stars Will Smith and Joel Edgerton play it mostly straight here, doing their part to sell the dopey premise, but the screenplay offers viewers little reward for our own suspension of disbelief. Rumored to be the most expensive Netflix original film to date, the pic may well attract eyeballs on the streaming outlet. But its potential as a franchise-starter is laughably small.
Bright could have been something truly special if it had slowed down the pace of its narrative to allow for a fuller exploration of its engaging world. Will Smith and Joel Edgerton are a compelling duo I’d love to see again in a sequel, or even a new series produced by Netflix, so hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ll see of the world of Bright.
In fairness, director David Ayer (Suicide Squad) doesn’t do the already muddy script any favors. When the film is focused purely on the seediness of the impoverished corners of Los Angeles, the director gets to show off the trademark gorgeous grittiness he displayed in End of Watch. (There’s a great opening sequence that manages to tell a story strictly through street graffiti.) But my goodness, does David Ayer love automatic weapons. The uzi budget on this movie must have been out of this world. If you love scenes where someone walks into a crowded club and fires an uzi into the air (possibly even two at the same time) then friend, watch Bright twice and thank me later. For anyone else, this becomes almost comically repetitive. After a while, it becomes clear that Landis’ impulse for slaughter and Ayers’ impulse to display the loudest possible form of filmmaking at all times is a match tailor made for obnoxious storytelling.
Bright works because of the dynamics between Will Smith and Joel Edgerton. They sell the friction that pervades their society’s class structure. Some scenes are quite funny with Ward reacting to Jakoby’s observations of human behavior. They are not buddy cops from the go. Their relationship is born under duress and gradually strengthened by conflict. This is the basic pillar of Bright. It holds up the film as the action scenes and carnage blur.
There’s a vague notion of the film recontextualizing real-life issues in a fantasy setting, but its world-building is so inept that there is zero point in scrutinizing any symbolism beyond the obvious. Orcs deserve respect, but The Man won’t give it to them because of ancient tribal grudges. Eventually, Ward will learn to hold an olive branch, thanks to his relationship with his partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton)—the first ever orc cop. Guess who’s coming to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association dinner?
In fact, “Bright” transposes fantasy elements commonly found in kids’ entertainment to the world of heavy-duty adult action (for instance, its Fairies are nothing like Tinkerbell, but foul-mouthed pests with razor-sharp teeth). In the tradition of Dennis Hopper’s “Colors,” Ayer has delivered another bloody, street-level cop movie, where even the most beloved characters can be shot, and the law is just a loose suggestion that folks on either side freely ignore. It’s a formula he established in “Harsh Times” and has been incrementally improving ever since, and while we charitably assume that his studio-overhauled superhero foray doesn’t represent his true voice or abilities, it clearly gave him the confidence to tackle something as expansive as this.
Netflix still has every reason to try to create the movie version of something like Stranger Things — a property that dominates the cultural conversation and creates a powerful, dedicated fandom of its own. But having lower stakes for most of its projects will allow the company to experiment and take risks. That could very well end up being the secret to long-term success for Netflix’s film ambitions. Whether it’s a worthy goal or not, Netflix has shown it can produce its own middle-of-the-road action blockbuster. Now can it do better than that?
Things go seriously off the rails as the film lurches to its conclusion. Smith seems to know how bad the film is so he agrees to have his face hit repeatedly, leaving it puffy and bloody. Perhaps he hopes no one can recognize him anymore. But there’s no escaping the truth. This film makes his misfire “Wild Wild West” looks like “The Godfather.” Plus, he knows he just buried the buddy cop film genre. You’ll never see two cops swapping snide comments in the front seat of a cruiser again — and not laugh.
Director David Ayer has form in this area, having written Training Day and End of Watch (two buddy cop thrillers), and directed the recent Suicide Squad. He’s fond of macho, hard-hitting action: cartridge-showering shootouts; careering car chases; crunching hand-to-hand combat. Some of it is exhilarating; some of it is borderline incomprehensible owing to mistimed editing and a terminally gloomy palette. The pace barely lets up, but sometimes you wish it would.
What holds Bright back the most is the fact that the world is far more interesting than the story. Throughout the film, there are allusions to an ancient conflict between all the species and a so-called Dark Lord (hello, Harry Potter), but nothing in the present day is nearly as interesting. Magical creatures live alongside humans and there’s even a special unit of federal agents who hunt down magical artifacts and people who can control magic, brights, but the movie never feels engaging; it just happens. The film starts with a cool but sloppily shot montage of graffiti across town that displays how society is divided and who is prejudiced against who, an idea that is far more interesting than defending a weapon from the wrong hands. There’s even one shot of the city that shows a dragon flying above the skyline, but they’re never directly referenced or brought into the story. If dragons exist near Los Angeles, there’s probably an interesting history of domestication or conflict between dragons and humans that is far-more intriguing than what Landis focuses on.
That is not good news at all. Worse than Wild Wild West and The Emoji Movie – that’s actually quite an achievement. It appears that the fantasy world combining guns and magic is a concept which people liked, it’s just the story itself that’s gone a bit awry. I had high hopes for this movie based on its rather enjoyable trailers and the always charismatic Smith, but it seems the movie is instead just a damp squib instead. I’ll probably still watch it anyway, because it’s on Netflix and I will have time, but I may need to get some therapy afterwards if these early comments are anything to go by. As for the career of David Ayer, he may need to return to the drawing board.
Bright releases tomorrow on Netflix and stars Will Smith, Joel Egerton, Noomi Rapace, Edgar Ramirez, Lucy Fry, and Ike Barinholtz. That’s a lot of talent – hopefully this movie is better than these critics have made it out to be. Look out for our review once we’ve found the time to write it amidst our holiday indulgences and festive lethargy… Yeah, it might take a while.
Last Updated: December 21, 2017