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WARNING: Bright has been utterly lambasted by critics, with some calling it the worst movie of 2017. Usually in reviews I try to be open minded. This will be my first completely negative review.
There are a number of issues with Bright, from the basic lack of world building, to the inherent racism towards Orcs that’s a thinly veiled allegory towards real-world racism, from the by-the-numbers, God-awful storyline, to the unnecessary swearing from seemingly nearly every character. Here I will address these four issues (which I consider to be the big offenders that come together to make up the film in its entirety), and hopefully they will err you away from sitting down, going on Netflix, and watching this film.
Issue One: Lack of world building. Usually, world building isn’t completely necessary for a film to be a good one. In fact, sometimes not shoehorning it in can help the film, rather than hinder it. However, in case you weren’t aware, the premise of Bright is that it’s set in LA, with humans just about managing to coexist alongside Orcs. That’s its main selling point. There are also Elves, who are the snobbish, superior race, and fairies, whom everyone talks about casually killing as though they’re no more than insects. The Elves’ part of town shows up briefly, because Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), an unblooded Orc who’s the first Orc in history to become a cop, drives through it so as to take a short-cut. We’re treated to expensive supercars, and a generic, clichéd look at how Elves would live if they existed. Not only did this feel shoehorned in at the last minute – as though screenwriter Max Landis thought ‘damn, I need to add more mythical creatures to this story and do some more world building to please viewers, for “reasons”‘ – but it also felt like Landis had grabbed the first book on mythological creatures that he’d found in the library (or the first link on Google, seeing as this is the twenty-first century), and had thought ‘wow, Elves are often described as snobbish; cool, there’s my homework done!’. It was so maddeningly frustrating, that there was no need for it to be there at all. There was also the bit about Daryl Ward’s (Will Smith) wife asking him to straight up kill a fairy, like it was that world’s equivalent of a spider. This would be fine if Bright were a sequel, but it wasn’t, and it came across as coldblooded and nihilistic. What had this fairy done? No idea. Why did it need to be killed? Inconclusive evidence provided. Why were fairies treated so poorly? I’m not sure, as the film never really addressed fairies again, and the only time you ever saw one for a second time was when one appeared in front of the screen and snarled at you, right before the credits rolled.
Issue Two: The inherent racism towards Orcs that’s a thinly-veiled allegory towards real-world racism. Out of ‘all’ (to clarify, by that I mean three) of the mythological creatures that we were introduced to in Bright, the Orcs were the ones that were given the most in terms of character. The Orcs had a backstory as to why they were so hated, why they were treated badly, and why they were largely rejected from society, or else held lower positions (Ward and Jakoby saw an Orc as an Elfish chauffeur on their thirty-second foray through the Elf section of LA). Landis even went to the trouble to have a character describe an Orc’s physical limitations, but that was only for the sake of part of the ‘B plot’ that was meant to further Ward and Jakoby’s topsy-turvy relationship. This B plot came right at the beginning of the story, when Jakoby was getting a burrito, and Ward got shot by another Orc, who managed to escape. Because Jakoby’s an Orc, this fuelled tensions in the force, decrying him as an Orc lover, a traitor, and someone who needed to be murdered. Not just fired from the force, but straight-up murdered, just because he was different, because he wasn’t a human.
Now if that isn’t something that plantation owners thought of during the Slave Trade, then I’ll eat my hat. And if it’s not something that white supremacists would consider, then again, I’ll be stunned to silence. This is, obviously, a hugely sensitive topic, one which should be handled with care, with a bit of finesse, and certainly with a degree of wariness, because if you put one foot wrong, then the chances are, you’re going to screw up, and have an affect on people. If you’re not quite sure how to handle the topic effectively, as well as for the sake of the story or in a way which would raise issues in terms of conversation starters instead of just slamming it into the viewers’ faces with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, then you really ought to just forget trying to do something like this altogether. Personally, I found this so on the nose, so blunt, and so slap-dash, that it made me genuinely uncomfortable as I tried to force myself to watch these parts.
Issue Three: The by-the-numbers, God-awful storyline. There is great storytelling, then there’s lazy storytelling. There’s fantastic storytelling, then there’s basic storytelling. Usually, it doesn’t matter if you like the film, love the film, or you’ve no opinion on the film, you can often tell when a storyline is a good one or not. You can often tell when the writing has had thought and care put into it, because the film is doing the one thing that it’s meant to do: entertain. And even if you dislike a film because it’s not your favourite genre or whatever, the chances are, you can at least appreciate good writing, good dialogue, and good action beats. Of course, it’s not all down to the screenwriter(s), and sometimes it can be a combination of bad directing or bad acting. But then you can also have a bad story, but good actors. In the case of Bright, both Smith and Edgerton do their best with rubbish material. They are trying so hard to make a beautiful piece of entertainment out of manure (yes, that’s a slight reference to a pointless one minute conversation near the start of the film), but there’s only so much that they can do. And the story itself was basic as well, as if Landis had written it the night before, as if someone had said to him ‘here’s an idea, give director David Ayer something to work with’, and he forgot all about it until someone sent him a reminder email, and he cobbled something together last-minute.
Then there’s Ayer himself, who directed both Fury and Suicide Squad. Once again, Ayer missed the mark here, and directed a truly awful film. What is worrying is the fact that this was meant to be Netflix’s answer to Hollywood. They were meant to make a big budget action film that everyone enjoyed: critics, the general public, and those curious enough just to check it out. And here’s the rub: if Netflix can continue to make films like this (of such unbelievably poor quality) and get away with it, then they really can start to shift the power away from Hollywood. It’s far easier to open up your MacBook or your desktop, turn on Netflix, and put something on than it is to pick a film, pick a cinema, drive to the cinema, park, pay for parking, the film itself, and then potentially even go out for a meal. If Netflix really want to be a viable competition, or at least an alternative option to Hollywood, then they need to make consistently greater films.
Issue Four: The unnecessary swearing from seemingly nearly every character. Now, before I fully address this, I want to talk about pirates. In particular, I want to talk about both the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and also a little-known TV show called Black Sails. In regards to the former, it’s a 12A franchise about pirates, and so therefore the cursing needs to be inventive while suitable, something that Gore Verbinski and his team managed to pull off with amazing success. With the latter, however, it’s a TV show, rated TV-MA, which, for those of you who aren’t aware, translates as an 18. This means that you can have as many swearwords as possible – well, within reason. And I say that because there are a lot of channels and studios that put a restriction on the number of curse words that you’re allowed per episode or season. This is usually the case with films, too, which makes sense given the age ratings.
Now, with Black Sails, there was a lot of swearing, but the dialogue was like poetry. The pirates were pirates, acted like them, swore like them, but spoke like they’d come right out of a Shakespearean play. This counteractive measure in terms of words worked wonders, and made Black Sails truly phenomenal television. It also made the use of swearing palatable, no matter how many times the pirates cursed. It was done well, the curse words were used well, and it didn’t create a stain on the viewing experience. This was not the case with Bright. Straight from the beginning, right after the ridiculous opening that felt more like a vanity project of Ayer’s than anything else, the characters were swearing. And it wasn’t even used effectively, they were just thrown in with so much frequency that it felt as though Landis had rung up Seth MacFarlane (think Ted 2🙂 and asked for pointers. If it was meant to be a ‘realistic’ portrayal of real life, then I think Landis is living in a fairy world (yes, pun intended), because not everyone and their mother swears like a pirate.
And all the constant swearing from almost every character was actually damaging to the story as well, to the point where it felt a little jarring when characters weren’t dropping F bombs left, right and centre. To top it all off, the cursing affected the character beats, so that when there was meant to be character growth and development, all you got was a bunch of foul language that diluted the desired outcome. This was infuriating, as Ward and Jakoby’s relationship wasn’t painted as a particular great one to start out with, and you did actually feel sorry for Jakoby (to the extent that you could do, what with all the bad language and poor writing), but their relationship did grow a little bit. Not much, and not nearly as much as it could have done, but enough to warrant that there was an ‘arc’ and ‘character growth’. Their relationship could have been so much better, and Landis could have gone in a different direction with it, to the point where it may have even lifted the film to mediocrity, instead of being downright terrible. A buddy-cop movie implies that the cops are buddies, but this was one with a twist, and one that was bad right from start to finish. If the future is Bright, then I don’t want to watch.
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