David Ayer’s Bright is incredibly ambitious. Too ambitious, in fact. It’s an avalanche of conflicting movie ideas all jammed into one. Some of them are fascinating, others familiar, and a few are downright awful. The result is a off-putting hodgepodge that never comes together, but isn’t wholly without its merits.
Bright is set in what feels like modern Los Angeles, except that Orcs live among us. So do elves and fairies, and none of them showed up recently. They’ve been part of the Earth forever. Basically, if J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth evolved into 2017, you might have the world of Bright.
Which, admittedly, is an awesome idea, but it’s rarely at the forefront. Instead, the central story is about a police officer named Ward (Will Smith) who is partnered with Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first orc police officer in history. That dynamic sets up a slew of possibilites, and Bright seemingly explores them all simultaneously. There’s racism towards Jakoby, but it comes not just from cops but other orcs as well. Jakoby struggles with whether he’s a cop or orc first, and Ward is on the fence of whether or not to trust him. It’s also hinted that Ward was partnered with Jakoby out of spite, and then there’s a backstory about a shooting, Ward’s family is worried about him, internal affairs is on their case, and so on and so on.
If the movie was just about two partners, human and orc, in modern fantasy LA, that would be one thing, but the plot quickly barrels away from its already convoluted premise. Ward and Jakoby are called to a crime scene where they find a mysterious elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) who is in possession of a magic wand, described as “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.” Everyone wants the wand and the film then shifts into an elaborate, bullet-ridden chase movie with Ward and Jakoby, their previous dynamic all but forgotten, trying to protect Tikka and the wand. Also? They’re not just protecting her from LA gangs, but also an evil group of elves, other cops, and a mysterious FBI for magic, all at once.
Bright continually stacks new mysteries and plotlines on top of each other. As all of that is happening, we learn about ancient myths involving the history of the orcs, a Dark Lord everyone is afraid of, a secret society sworn to defeat him, super rich elves, orc traditions, as well as the title of the film, Brights, which refers to the special people able to wield a magic wand.
When there’s that much going on, though, from time to time something really lands, and that’s when the film’s aims become obvious. Bright, written by Max Landis, clearly comes from a place of passion. Its aim is to use our modern understandings of the fantasy genre and twist them to create a brand new world to tell multiple stories in. Many of the strands mentioned above are obviously there to set up future storylines or to build out the mythology. The hope here is to create a modern Lord of the Rings, both figuratively and literally.
But Bright is trying to do too much, and none of it works cohesively together. Nothing reaches its intended impact because none of it stands apart. The drama is lacking. The humor misses almost every single time. And the impressive ensemble cast, which also includes Noomi Rapace, Jay Hernandez, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Kenneth Choi, and Margaret Cho, seem confused about how serious (or not) they’re supposed to be taking this stuff.
At one moment in Bright, there’s an establishing shot of a dragon flying over Los Angeles. It’s gorgeous, exciting, and emblematic of all of the potential in the film. But it never comes back, and by the time Bright is done throwing idea after idea at you, it’s hard to remember it was ever there. And that’s the movie in a nutshell.
Bright debuts on Netflix December 22.