I’m giving you over to our Man on the Silver Mountain this week! We did watch and discuss this one together though – so without further ado; we bring you Bright, 2017. As per usual, you’re in for a long one! (If I have any comments to add they will be in italics!)
Hi guys, it’s me again, The Man on the Silver Mountain. During the holidays I sat down with your Librarian and we watched Bright. There were two reasons for this; firstly, we wanted to watch it, and secondly because people we had been talking to that had already seen the film were either singing its praises or ripping it to shreds and we wanted to understand why.
The Librarian said that she’d probably add her own comments on this for you guys too but I volunteered to write this as the genre space that Bright fits into (which I’ve most frequently heard dubbed “modern arcana”) is something I’ve read more of, seen more and played more of than your Librarian has. As with some of the other films I’ve talked about before I feel like Bright doesn’t deserve the backlash it’s receiving from critics or people that have missed the point of the movie.
Before I get into this though; I’ve been asked to try and dodge spoilers again but might not manage it perfectly, so if you’re not wanting to be spoiled at all for this movie, then I suggest going away, watching the film and then coming back to talk to us about it.
For those of you that haven’t seen the trailers or are a little fuzzy on the story it kinda goes like this; in a modern setting where all of conventional history has been permeated with races and magical abilities from something akin to D&D or Tolkien-esque fantasy, a cop called Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is returning to work with his orc partner Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) after time off recovering after being injured in the line of duty. Returning to work he finds himself mixed up in office politics surrounding his partner who happens to be the first and only orc police officer in the LAPD. Soon afterwards at a hectic and disturbing crime scene they find a magic wand said to be like “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes” and madness ensues as Ward, Jakoby and their only witness to the events that transpired, an elf called Tikka (Lucy Fry) are hunted throughout the city by gangs, corrupt cops, elven cultists and anyone else who seems to feel like it.
So, where to begin?
Let’s start with the setting as that seems to be what a lot of non-critics are getting caught up on. The setting and thus the story being told within it are not for purists. If you’re a hardcore fantasy fan then this might not be for you, if you’re an action/thriller kind of person then this may not be for you, if you’re a buddy cop movie kind of person then this may not be for you. If the combination of all of those things being mashed together sounds like fun to you, then you’ll probably enjoy Bright. (Even if they aren’t for you, I would say at least give it a go – don’t judge a book by it’s cover and all that.)
This film’s setting is not about race. In the film the fact that lines have been drawn between races; with elves being rich and beautiful, humans being… well human, and orcs being the poor, the criminals, etc. is not to draw parallels between those fantasy races and real-world racial demographics. What is does is use the fantasy races, that are all obviously visually distinct, to give the audience away of at a glance distinguish between the privileged and the downtrodden. The races focused on in the film (in spite their being nine major races mentioned in the film and seen a couple of times as in the case of a couple of centaur cops) are threefold and line up with the class system observed in America today. We can also see through the situations of the characters we meet throughout the film that the divide between middle and lower class is shrinking with more and more humans ending up in poor neighbourhoods or joining in with gang violence and somewhat illegal or less reputable activity. Even our main human character Ward is at risk of losing his home and can’t afford to maintain a good environment for his child. This film is about class divisions and not about race. Is there an element of racism on display to generate tension? Yeah, but it’s made clear by Ward telling his daughter “Everybody’s just trying to get along and have a good life. All of the races are different. Just cause they’re different doesn’t mean anybody is better or worse than anybody,” towards the beginning of the film when she asks about whether orcs are just plainly less intelligent than humans, that this isn’t as big a concern as status. Jakoby being hired seems more akin to the police hiring an ex-gang affiliate and feeling negatively towards such a decision but in the way the setting is laid out this is depicted as fantasy racism, a thing that is visual and easy for people to understand in passing.
The next couple of things I want to touch on I’ve heard from critics, or people who worship critics, more than anyone else. First off, the film was too dark and badly shot. I think we were watching different movies. It was dark, I would agree but I could always see what was going on and some of the choreographed shots during fight scenes that jumped between multiple angles were fine and allowed both the Librarian and myself to keep up with what was going on and see everything. Were there moments where the film got more hectic and jumbled? Yes, for instance there’s a scene where they enter a packed club. Ward and Jakoby end up trying to fight their way through a dancefloor occupied by a well-populated mosh pit. The camera zooms in, moves jarringly and all we can really see are the characters trying their best to keep moving in the chaos. Why shoot it like this? Simple; we’re now as confused as the characters are and it’s only when the characters regain their composure that we get a wider-angle shot to allow us to see Tikka beckoning to them as she’s found a way to escape. The way the film was shot was related to how the characters experienced it whilst not being too jarring or confusing to the casual viewer. (I agree that there was times of darkness. I couldn’t tell if it was the adaptive lighting of my tablet screen or the darkness of the cinematography.)
I’ve heard that the film had a poor story and that the characters lacked growth. Let’s tackle these two things separately as the first is easier to get through than the second. So, poor story? I wouldn’t say so, more a simple story as it’s a pretty straightforward Hero’s Journey kind of set up with the Call to Action, Reaching the Threshold, Death & Rebirth, Atonement and Return to the Norm in a big cycle.
To discuss growth of the characters we first have to talk about the characters. Let’s start off with Ward; he’s an older cop, jaded by his time on the force, focused on results and not seemingly bothered by much else. He’s a man of some principle as he resents the office politics hitting him due to his orcish partner and stands up to corruption among his colleagues. He’s flawed, sure; dismissive, unkind, sarcastic but he’s still one of the good guys when all is said and done. Now we see him blaming his partner for the injury he received that took him off duty and resenting the fact that he still has to share duties with him after returning to work. It draws him into a pretty miserable situation as the movie continues but skipping ahead a bit towards the end of the film it’s Ward and Jakoby against the world, they’re honest with each other, watching each other’s backs and the troubles from the beginning of the film are resolved at various points throughout the film, with Ward going out of his way to ensure Jakoby survives and encounter with the awesome villain that is Leilah played by Noomi Rapace, leaving himself seemingly without any way of protecting himself after the fact.
Jakoby on the other hand is an outcast at the beginning of the film, an orc without proper tusks, raised by humans and not accepted by any of the orcs they encounter throughout the majority of the movie as he’s not “blooded” a rite of passage and ritual acceptance of young orcs as being proper orcs. He’s naïve, hopeful and trusting in spite of being harshly aware of how out of place and unwanted he is. By later in the film though given every opportunity to break or give up he finds companionship in both his fellow police officer Ward and in the elf they’re protecting Tikka, finds purpose in keeping those friends and the communities they’re dealing with as safe as he can from the violence and mayhem that’s chasing them and comes out the other end by ignoring everything including his own safety to save Ward from a burning building, an act that earns him the respect of the orcs that have labelled him an outcast for his whole life.
So there’s growth, certainly. Does it matter though? No. On reaching the point in the Hero’s Journey where our heroes return to the normal world accepting their new version of normal after what they’ve experienced the events of their night of chaos and gun fights is covered up by federal agents. As a result the only people that their growth matters to is them, Daryl Ward and Nick Jakoby. If that enough? I’d say so but we’ll have to see if it does or not in the next film considering Bright 2 has already been greenlit.
After singing this movie’s praises though do I have my criticisms? Absolutely, the movie was good but not perfect. Seeing more of the villains was one thing I’d have liked; learning more about them and their plans, or at least learning more about them as people. I’d have liked to see some of the other nine races that are mentioned several times, dwarves are mentioned but not a single stocky beard owner is highlighted in the film as far as I noticed. The main criticism that I have though is one that’s been echoed by other people too; there wasn’t enough of it. I got to the end of the film and wanted more; I wanted to know more about the universe, about the way the rest of the world had developed outside of Los Angeles with magic and magical races being real in this universe. I kinda wish it had been a TV series instead of a movie, but if that had been the case we probably wouldn’t have gotten named like Will Smith, Joel Edgerton or Noomi Rapace in the movie and the chemistry between Smith and Edgerton definitely made it better for me than not. What I can hope is that Bright 2 will be just as good if not better and then maybe we’ll see a spin-off TV show to expand the universe more at a later date.
Overall I’d give this movie a 8-9/10 with those missed points purely being down to it not giving me all I would have liked from the universe.
I hope you found this a fun read and I know your Librarian and I would love to hear your thoughts down below and if you’re interested in more stuff I’ve done I’m sure the Librarian will stick my links in here somewhere too.
Do you agree with MotSM’s comments? We’ve spent a lot of time chatting about it, with lots of people, but would love to know your thoughts! Leave a comment down below!
[Header Image: Bright, Netflix, 2017]