Home Reviews An Unpaid Film Critic’s Real Review: ‘Bright’

An Unpaid Film Critic’s Real Review: ‘Bright’

written by Ro December 27, 2017

Netflix Original Bright began streaming Friday, the 22nd. In typical fandom fashion, it immediately set the interwebs buzzing…

More than one critic proclaimed Bright the worst movie of 2017.

I don’t read reviews until I finish mine. But, if this was their worst film of 2017, these folks didn’t watch enough movies. Possibly, expectations were stupid low for other movies. Maybe, they’ve just blocked out half the year.

Audience members quickly rallied. Proclaiming the slew of critic negativity to be a deliberate smear campaign.

To that, I say…biiiiissh, please. Most critics won’t even talk to each other until they’ve written their copy and submitted. No one’s trying to see their best descriptions show up somewhere else. No writer who respects the work (or values their press access) pushes out paid copy not labeled “Sponsored.” I wish you would accuse me of taking payola to my face (do it, I got time and these hands).

More importantly, if these fans think Bright a well done original storyline and genre mashup, then they need to watch Alien Nation and read more urban fantasy STAT.

From that, you can take away this unpaid critic, is seriously not here for folks talking out the side of they face. And I have to say, even after watching Bright (twice), my feelings are decidedly mixed and I’m feeling…opinionated. 

So let’s discuss, shall we? 

Bright US poster - Photo Credit: Netflix

Bright US poster – Photo Credit: Netflix

Quick Take: Bright is a jumbled story that doesn’t know what it wants to be. With haphazard action sequences, uneven plot progression, and extremely shallow of character development, Bright never fully gels. It’s kinda fun…ish but never makes you believe. Good urban fantasy calls for exciting world-building, thrilling action, vivid storytelling, and a (sur)realistic environment. It’s a genre that effortlessly supports both its characters and often multilayered plot. Bright lacks the most important story element: a story worth unraveling.

Bright is shallow (but thinks it’s profound) entertainment. It’s sometimes action-packed and funny. But this pedantic and stereotype-riddle script wastes this extraordinarily talented cast.

If you’re fond of exposition data dumps and a race through a city barely worth figuring out, then Bright is destined to be your jam.

I didn’t hate Bright; it’s just okay. I won’t lower the bar (that’s not my ministry) because I want urban fantasy stories (in all forms) to live largely.

Bright could’ve slayed and been brilliant. So imma hold it against it (all day) that it isn’t.

Grade: C

The Details

The open credits drop story context (and apparently essential world-building elements) via graffiti all to the emotive and atmospheric track Broken People. Out the gate, you’re clued into the fact, there’s been a serious shift of power in the world. It all looks great and flows well into the beginning action. But overall, is only semi-successful because there’s hardly any (by hardly I mean not a damn bit) later development.

The “Feel” of Bright

This sequence does successfully establish a color-filled backdrop and gritty vibe Director David Ayer seamlessly maintains the course of the story. He should since it’s almost dead-on the rhythm and flow of his cop drama, End of Watch. You don’t get extra points for killing it in your wheelhouse.

Ayer’s direction creates such a believable environment it just begs for comparable character-based storytelling and development. We never get it. And without it, Bright suffers obvious drop-offs in character investment and comedic moments that fall short of the mark. The dialogue is choppy, predictable, and unacceptably overwrought at the height of the action.

The “Look” of Bright

While the make-up and prosthetics are all on point; costuming phoned in more than a few looks *ahem* jerseys? *ahem* really?

Visually, Bright does an excellent job of mixing a modern, gritty, “downtown” vibe with vibrant colors and slick imagery. This is a, sometimes chaotic and muddy, engaging setting. This movie looks good; had I not seen this neon-filled murky wonderland so skillfully employed in Atomic Blonde, I might said great.

I usually don’t but, hereafter it may feel like there are Bright spoilers…

I’ve got issues with Daryl Ward: 

Our introduction to Officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is impactful. But, you’ll immediately realize he’s reliving the encounter in a nightmare. It’s a tried-and-true tactic to draw viewers in before switching to a more pedestrian part of the storyline. In this case, Landis chooses to gracelessly dump almost all the backstory you’ll ever get for Officer Ward. I call it graceless because it builds no tension, engenders very little emotional connection established before Ward gets all broody.

Will Smith in Bright - Photo Credit: Scott Garfield -

Will Smith in Bright – Photo Credit: Scott Garfield –

Ward’s veteran cop (with a veteran cop’s prejudices) saddled with “diversity hire” and rookie Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). It’s clear that between the incident giving him nightmares and Jackoby’s rookie orc status, Ward’s feeling like a walking target.

We barely know Ward, so learning he’s five years from retirement and less than pleased with his current partner stops being compelling when he immediately behaves like a dick to both his neighbors and his new partner.

Will Smith isn’t asked to stretch himself for this part much. That fact alone is just…stupid. He’s playing a black cop in a world rife with factions and side-taking but never truly seems conflicted. I don’t know what black folks writer Max Landis hangs with but no black man I know is this blasé about the -ish circling Smith at home and work.

Bright never gives you enough character development to explain his attitude. Instead, we get Will Smith,”Mike Lowrying” bitterly a lot. This personality type doesn’t work (as written) with a black man in the role not even one as jovial (safe) as Smith. Ward’s brittle edge causes Edgerton’s antics and naivete to wear thin quickly. It kept their dynamic from ever fully popping comedically.

I’ve Watched Reality TV with More Cohesion than this Storyline:

Bright‘s set in an alternate version of present-day Los Angeles. In this L.A., elves are the super-elite, orcs (apparently everyone’s old enemy) inspire hatred and all supernaturals mix freely (unless you’re on probation) even with humans.

Have a problem with a vandalizing fairy? Just call an exterminator, or take it out yourself because as Officer Ward so blithely states earlier on, 

Fairy lives don’t matter today

At this point, I literally said out loud, “what is this white nonsense?” Y’all just gonna be in your face foolish…ok.” The movie was barely fifteen minutes in…

The Plot Progression…ish

Bright’s (allegedly) part buddy comedy, part gritty cop drama (both styles very familiar to writer Max Landis). LAPD patrolmen answer a routine call out only to encounter murder, magic, and mayhem.

  • Someone wanna explain (or better yet show) how the magic system in this alternate L. A. actually works?
  • There’s a prophecy but we never hear it (you know someone all oracle-like blurted one out in ancient times) or learn what it says in full.
  • Instead of building on the perfect moment to drop knowledge on the audience while moving the action forward (and Ward and JAkoby’s relationship) in a magically interesting and informative direction Landis relies on crude exposition and strategically poor data dumps
  • We have a magic artifact clearly powerful enough to set off city-wide greed and manhunt but it spends most of the movie as an inert prop or joke punchline…umm huh?
  • Who is the Darklord? What he do?
  • Can someone please tell me why we hate Orcs? I’m asking for a friend…
  • Why have some random dirty dude out the orcish to talk to Jackoby then act like that -ish never happen for the rest of the film?
  • Kick-ass elves lead by knife happy Leilah (evil Bright and super Darklord acolyte) are the mortal enemy of the fat man and the elf (aka shit hot FBI agents) but these mo*fos don’t do nada but run they mouths, show up late and get folks killed by talking over unsecured phone lines…
  • An organization destined to battle the Darklord with magic (apparently again) exists but the never makes an appearance to assist to our cop duo and rouge elf?
  • The Sheriff has the number to the hot-shot FBI branch but LAPD officers don’t…come now.

The hope is all these elements fuse into a vibrant urban fantasy action thriller complete with a prophecy and served up a side of social justice metaphors. Instead…

Allegory…I Don’t Think That Means What They Think It Means…

The silent commentary on modern segregation (aka gentrification) is visually striking if, um…stereotypical and well, trite: affluent (boughie) parts of town isolated from the more cash-strapped (urban) parts of the city to suburban (working class) enclaves where even cops and “gangstas” rub along (dragging down property values) living next door to one another.

I don’t know what year Bright’s L.A. is modeled after exactly. But, Landis’s perspective on class divisions and the archetypes (apparently stereotypes about Mexican folk are unchanged throughout the multiverse) that make up the general populous is a huge indicator that homeboy has some not-so-latent prejudice he should go talk to his maker about…soon.

Somehow the interjection of supernatural beings is all it takes for black folk to be oblivious to racism and bigotry. We’re all “humans” so suddenly that “us” includes black people…yeah, no. Who are you playing with?

Dear Max, you ever thought of having a permanent writing partner…with veto power?

I think my immediate reaction after it ended expresses my feelings best:

Bright is what happens when a white dude thinks, “we should talk about social/race issues more” but then doesn’t hire (or speak with) any marginalize people to do the talking (yeah I said it).

This film, though, is what happens when a writer doesn’t know their urban fantasy. Max Landis may know some folklore but his skillset for weaving a great urban fantasy tale seriously lacks imagination.

Bright is based on a stellar idea. Director David Ayers did what he could with what he was given but Landis didn’t give him much.

I’m not going to applaud a script that treats people and social issues as caricatures (literally) and utterly disrespects an entire genre (and its rules) while doing it.

I’m pretty sure I’d spontaneously combust.

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