Much like the wrestling move, The RKO, the success of Netflix has come out of nowhere. The company was once a mail-in, DVD rental service who tried to go against the then juggernaut of home entertainment that was Blockbuster Video. Then 2007 came, and Netflix shifted over to this new medium called online streaming. Fast forward a decade later, not only is Blockbuster out of business (except for nine or so stores in Alaska, where the Internet service is horrible), and Netflix is single handedly killing both the theater going and broadcast television businesses. People stopped going to video rental stores, and now they’re not bothering to go to the theaters to see their movies, and they’re not too keen on having to wait weeks or months to watch an entire season of network television (and they’re not overly fond of watching commercials, either). For $8-12 a month, Netflix will allow you to watch any number of thousands of movies, both studio made and in-house originals, and entire seasons of TV series that can be watched in one sitting, without any commercial interruptions. And subscribers are eating this service up as if it were candy!
Of course, this “overnight” success has made Netflix universally hated by those in charge of the entertainment industry, as their profits suffer from people choosing the streaming service over their dated methods of making you leave your home to go to a theater, or the retail store to buy a DVD or Blu-Ray, or as I mentioned, making you watch live broadcast TV at a specific time, with the commercials and all … like a caveman! So needless to say, many insiders weren’t happy when Netflix announced that they were throwing their hat into the blockbuster movie arena, with their latest original movie, “Bright”. Yes, I was also bewildered by the fact that Will Smith (considered by many to be Hollywood’s last great movie star) would agree to be in Netflix movie. I wasn’t sure if it was a sign that Netflix has finally hit it big, or a sign that Will Smith has fallen so low into his career. I’ll leave it up to you to decide, after you watch the movie. But here are my two cents.
“Bright” is, as far as I know, the first ever mainstream film production of the “urban fantasy” genre. For those of you who have no clue what an urban fantasy is, it’s the sub-genre of fantasy fiction, in which classical fantasy elements like magic, and creatures like orcs and elves are placed in modern day metropolitan or suburban settings, rather than in traditional medieval times. And “Bright” is exactly that. It takes place in modern day California, but in this version of the Golden State, such things like magic and enchanted races of mythological creatures are real, and have existed for centuries. Will Smith, the last actor to become (and stay) a major movie star via his natural talent and charisma, rather than being attached to a popular brand name franchise (sorry Robert Downey Jr and Chris Pratt) plays Daryl Ward, a stereotypical police officer who is just trying to get through his life one day at a time, and get home safely to his wife and child. However, his life is flipped and turned upside (no, not because he was forced to move from Philadelphia to Bel-Air) when he is partnered with the LAPD’s first orc police officer.
Said orc police officer is Nick Jakoby, played by Hollywood’s current favorite, ruggedly-handsome everyman, character actor, Joel Edgerton. Although, here we have Edgerton covered in makeup, and yet his performance still shines through. In the world of “Bright”, orcs are clearly a metaphor for the African-American community, as they often shown as living in “the worst parts of the city” and are usually dressed in clothes commonly associated with black youths and gang members. Elves also exist in this world, but they are depicted as rich, caucasian business owners, who live in their own Beverly Hills styled city, far from the rundown areas that the orcs live in. There’s also fairies and dragons in this world, but the fairies are only used for a one-off joke, and the one dragon is only shown off in the distance, because the budget for this movie was tight ($90 million, to be exact).
“Bright” was written by Max Landis, son of John Landis. Max is best known for other genre mashup movies like “Chronicle” (found footage mashed with superheroes) and “American Ultra” (stoner comedy mashed with spy thriller), so there are few other writers that I can think of that would be best fitting to write the mashup of what is best described as “What if “End of Watch” and “Lord of the Rings” had a one-night stand and had a baby”. Speaking of “End of Watch”, this flick was directed by David Ayer, who just loves, loves, loves, LOVES police stories that take place in urban decayed areas, considering that very specific genre makes for 95% of his filmography. So it would also only be natural that he would be interested in this kind of movie. However, I found this duo to be a bit of an odd couple pairing, as Landis is more comedy centric, while Ayer is deadly serious. It’s kinda like with Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon working on “Justice League”, except without all the studio inference and several years worth of negative press coverage.
Anyway, Smith’s Daryl Ward is shot by an orc criminal while he’s on duty, and he blames Jakoby for not having his back. On top of that, the entirety of his police precinct want Jakoby gone as well, claiming he’s not truly “one of them” and is a “diversity hire” (yeah, the racial metaphors aren’t settle in this movie). Ward and Jakoby then happen onto a crime scene in which they discover a magic wand. In this world, magic wands can grant wishes, but can only be properly handled by “brights”, a select few individuals who can naturally control the untapped magical powers that the wands possess. Needless to say, once word gets out that Ward and Jakoby have a wand, everyone from their own allies at the police precinct, to local street gangs, to federal agents are out to get them. And so, Ward and Jakoby have to survive being chased by all of these separate groups, as while as keep the wand out of the hands of Leilah (played by the always lovely Noomi Rapace), an elf princess who formerly owned the wand, and has evil intentions for it.
If there’s one positive thing could say about “Bright”, it’s that it’s something we don’t usually see from mainstream studio productions, and I’m sure that’s on purpose. The director himself said he was most happy in the fact that the movie wasn’t watered down by a PG-13 rating, much like his last film, “Suicide Squad” was. And yes, “Bright” does take advantage from not having to please the MPAA. Not since the “Bad Boys” movies have I heard Will Smith drop the f-bomb this many times. There’s also buckets worth of blood throughout the action sequences, and some nudity sparkled in for the sake of it. And if that weren’t enough, this is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time in which a Will Smith character doesn’t have a handle on every situation, and we constantly see him getting beaten up, and remain physically scarred from the beatings that he’s taking. I give Netflix respect for making the movie this way, because I’m sure if you went to any of the major studios and told them that you wanted to make an urban fantasy with a hard R rating, and have it star Will Smith, but not the typical, heroic Smith that can do no wrong, but more morally grey character who can be easily defeated and killed off at any time, you would be laughed out of the room and asked to kindly leave the studio grounds without making a scene.
However, the biggest problem with “Bright” is that it doesn’t explain enough about its own world and how it came to be this way. We get a few explanations about orc tribes, and previous conflicts between the human and mythological races that happened centuries ago, but we don’t get the full scale of the history to this world. Many viewers have said that the movie would have been better off as a series, so to better explain and expand upon the the world of “Bright”. In my opinion, they should have had a flashback, “exposition dump” during the opening sequence, via the “The Lord of the Rings” movies. Another problem that I mentioned before, are the clashing creative styles of Max Landis and David Ayer. Sometimes the tone of the movie can be jarring, as it goes from funny to serious from one scene to another. It’s been reported that Ayer took it upon himself to rewrite parts of Landis’ script to better suit Ayer’s personal tastes. This definitely explains why the movie focuses more on being a cop drama than explaining the magical elements that are within it, as it’s obvious that Ayer doesn’t care for that part of the story.
Many critics were quick to declare “Bright” as “the worst movie of 2017”. I find that to be hyperbole, as anyone making such a claim must have not seen such bombs as “Underworld: Blood Wars”, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”, or (shutters) “The Emoji Movie”. While far from a perfect movie, “Bright” is entertaining enough to sit through, and is not inherently bad. Yes, the social commentary is on the nose, and the story can be cliched at times, especially with a “plot twist” in the third act that everyone will see coming from a five-hundred miles away, but it never was insultingly bad at any given time. It’s one of the better Will Smith performances in years, and Edgerton really does give life to his misunderstood orc character. Granted, the movie falls into the trap of an underdeveloped villain, in the form of Rapace’s Leilah, who is easily one of my favorite actresses and I will watch anything she is in, regardless if it’s good or not (I highly recommend her other Netflix movie, “What Happened to Monday?”; “Rapture”, not so much). Honestly, I just think critics were harsh on it because it’s a Netflix movie, and much like the studio executives, they aren’t ready for a world where a streaming service is doing much better business than the local movie theaters.
“Bright” had a viewership of 11 million people within the first three days, and while critics ripped the movie apart, the viewers seemed to enjoy it just fine. Someone did the math and figured out that if those 11 million people paid in theaters to see the movie, it would have made $100 million in its opening weekend. For a $90 million movie, that would mean the rest of the release would be pure profit, which is probably why a sequel has already been greenlit. I’m fine with that, because as everyone suggests, “Bright” needs to explain more about the fantasy aspects of its story, because they got the urban part down.
I give “Bright” a solid three out of five stars. I think Netflix is the perfect venue for this kind of movie. It’s not going to blow your mind, or change your life by any means, so there’s no point in leaving your house or paying money to see it if it were in theaters. One critic said it was no better or worse than any action movie that Vin Diesel would star in, and I completely agree with him on that statement. So if you’re bored and there’s nothing to watch, give “Bright” a try. And considering that it’s currently January, which is the worst month of the year for movie going, since it’s the month when studios dump all their worst movies into theaters, believe me, you’re going to need Netflix for your movie hook-up for the next four weeks or so! See ya next time.
Featured image: Movie poster.