From Director David Ayer and Writer Max Landis comes Bright, an interesting world set in modern day LA, but with a fantastical twist. The world is set up almost as if Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was part of our actual history.
The main character, Daryl Ward, played by Will Smith, and his partner, Nick Jackoby, played by Joel Edgerton, find themselves in a similar situation to Tolkien’s heroes: protecting an item of untold and dangerous power from the corrupt who would misuse it. But instead of the fellowship of nine, this adventure comes to us through the “Buddy Cop” trope, since they are both members of the LAPD. This gives the story a unique and modern twist to a classic fantasy adventure.
My husband and I had been meaning to watch Bright for awhile since he is a fan of most Will Smith movies. We were not disappointed.
There are a lot of negative criticisms for Bright, and I disagree with a lot of them. (Which I will discuss more in depth in a moment.) It is by no means a perfect movie, but it was a fun movie.
Perhaps the plot wasn’t the most original, but the characters were well developed and wonderfully performed by their actors. The world that was built for the story, at least to me, felt like it was bigger than the story we were presented with. This created a sense of depth and realism. I finished the movie wanting more, wishing they had delved more into the lore and history hinted at in the film. And I felt that the actual theme of the movie was delivered subtly and not spoon-fed to the audience, which I appreciated.
Bright: Potential Spoilers Ahead
Those who have seen the movie might be asking, “How can you say that the theme was subtle? The opening credits practically spelled it out: R-A-C-I-S-M.” But I don’t believe racism was the theme; I think it was the setting. The movie wasn’t about racism. But the characters were living and working in a corrupt area, and corruption will breed all sorts of discrimination. No, the theme of this story was about choices. Specifically the struggle of Ward to make moral choices in bad situations. It’s a battle between good and evil, and the battle starts in the soul of the individual.
From the very beginning of the movie, Ward is bombarded with choices. At first, most of them are directly related to his partner, Nick. Ward and Nick don’t completely trust each other due to the racism that permeates their society. At the beginning of the story, Ward was injured while on duty and Nick is clearly hiding something about the assailant. This is problematic because Nick is the only orc cop in LA and the assailant was also an orc. This leads to the question: where do Nick’s loyalties actually lie?
Because of the setting of racism, orcs are looked down upon by most of society as no-good troublemakers. Apparently, at some point in history, the majority of their race sided with the “Dark Lord.” As a result, thousands of years later, the other races still don’t trust them. So the idea of one being a cop is rather preposterous to everyone, even the other orcs who see the police as enemies. Naturally, this creates a lot of tension in the police force for both Ward and Nick as everyone sees them as taboo, or tainted.
The pressure put on Ward regarding Nick increases through the first half of the movie. First, he’s pressured to find a way to not be partnered with him, then to record Nick’s voice without his knowing, finally, Ward is pressured by other police officers to kill his partner.
It’s the moment when Ward decides to not kill Nick, and instead turn on the corrupt cops, that becomes a major turning point for Ward’s character. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole film. The emotional weight of the decision was portrayed so well by Will Smith.
Ward still struggles to make the right choices from then on. He’s committed to the path he is on, and thankfully, it is the moral path. At that point, the mission becomes to keep the magical macguffin, a wand, out of the hands of the corrupt. There are several times when Ward is tempted to give up and let someone less than worthy have the wand to just survive the night. But the difference is now he has sided with Nick.
Aside from his earlier secrets, Nick is the most moral character in the whole story. From the point where Ward saves Nick, he then has Nick to help encourage him to make the right moral choices. These choices eventually lead to them indirectly saving the world from the return of the “Dark Lord.”
Another main critique I saw of this movie that I disagreed with was that the world building was vague. However, the world felt very real to me. There was a history to it and magic was mysterious and misunderstood by the common person. This made it easy for the audience to relate to the average person. It also prevented us from having exposition spoon fed to us. As an audience member, I really appreciated that not everything was spelled out. And some things were never said, but were shown.
For example, there was a scene at the beginning where Nick and Ward were driving on patrol. They were driving through an area where a lot oforcs live. At one point, we see an orc casually lifting up the front end of a pick-up truck so a small orc child can retrieve a toy from under it. Shortly after, we see some cops apprehending, for lack of a better word, some other orcs.
We don’t know what they did, but there are roughly four human cops per orc and they are brutally beating these orcs into submission. While this in no way makes the scene less uncomfortable, the realization that one orc is probably about as strong as four average humans makes the reaction of the cops a bit more understandable, even if it’s not any less reprehensible.
Left Me Wanting More
Other elements of their history and lore are only vaguely hinted at, leaving me wanting more, but in a good way. It seemed as if there was actually more to the story. The magic system might have seemed vague. But I understood that to be an intentional decision on the part of the writers. Magic was not understood by the common person, and it clearly always came with a cost.
It wasn’t a source of unlimited power, nor was it even a Deus ex Machina solution to every problem. There were lots of questions left unanswered at the end of the movie. But in a way, that’s how life is.
There were a few questions I think should have been answered. But it didn’t ruin the story to leave them unanswered. If nothing else, I feel like this movie could easily have a sequel. Or it could become a series of movies that delve further into this world and history.
In the end, I found Bright to be a very enjoyable movie and I’d recommend it to any age-appropriate audience.* I’d give Bright 4 out of 5 stars. Go check it out and see what you think.
*Bright can be watched on Netflix. It’s rated TV-MA. There are roughly 1 to 2 F-Bombs in every line, quite a bit of violence, and several scenes with topless women.
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