Friday, December 22, 2017

Bright Review: Netflix's ambitious urban fantasy is more misses than hits

Bright Review

At the beginning of the year, I found a cool script for my first script review for my site. The script was for a film called "Bright." It was co-written by David Ayer, who was set to direct the film or Netflix. The film took place in a world where humans have been sharing Earth with fantasy creatures for thousands of years. Two cops, one human and one Orc, answer a call that leads them to a crime scene. At this crime scene, they find a rare item, a magic wand. The item is so rare and so powerful, everybody wants it for themselves. The cops must fight through human street gangs, orcish street gangs, corrupt officials, and of course, the witch that lost the wand in the first place. The film's script featured a simple story, but it was a cool blend of gritty crime lore (something Ayer has always excelled at) and high-concept fantasy.

The draft I read must have been an incredibly early draft. The story plays out mostly the same in the finished film, and there were moments that I liked in the script that played out perfectly on screen. However, as the credits began to roll, I was kind of shocked out painfully mediocre the finished product was. The film went from being this wild hybrid of fantasy and gritty crime noir to being just another Hollywood film on Netflix. This really surprised me since Ayer said in an interview how much he liked working at Netflix, and how they let him make the movie he wanted to make. The script I read really made something out a fairly ordinary storyline, why fix something that isn't broken?

Unfortunately, Will Smith is kind of a problem here. I can't believe I just typed that, since Ayer got such a great performance out of him in last year's "Suicide Squad." It seems like in most occasions, Smith can't help but let out his Big Willie persona. It's almost as if he can't help himself. Pretty much all throughout the film, he plays a character either similar or exactly like the characters we have seen him play all his career. I would have never guessed Smith would be so one-note. Ward, the human cop Smith plays, did not have a single hit of "Big Willie" persona in the script, and its too bad that things had to get reworked for the actor. I shouldn't say Smith is bad per se, just distracting.

What was amazing on the page was how this was a world that felt lived in. The script didn't constantly remind its audience that it was in a fantasy movie. You got the gist of this weird world our characters inhabited, and the detail was in the page. It was a great example of having the audience see and feel the details, instead of characters telling details. That has been completely reversed in the final film. It feels like every other word out these characters is "Orc" or "magic" or "elf" or "wand" and as this kept happening and kept happening and kept happening, the movie did little to make me feel that I was just watching another fantasy movie. I mean, hell, Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" couldn't be more fantasy based if it tried, and Jackson was still able to pull off a fantasy world that was pulled from reality. "Bright" is a movie that expects its audience to buy into a world where fantasy creatures grew up with humans, and we bludgeoned by this story thread all throughout the movie.

I will say that Joel Edgerton does some good work as Jakobi, the Orc police officer. But when he's asked to adjust to the Big Willie persona, he downgrades, which I don't think is particularly his fault. The make-up design for actors playing Orcs and Elves is top-knotch. Ike Barinholtz, who also worked with Smith and Ayer in "Suicide Squad" is fine, but not in the movie nearly enough. Jay Hernandez is an actor I've admired since 2004's "Friday Night Lights," but again, we barely see him. Noomi Rapace is hit-or-miss with her performances and sadly she's more miss than hit here, she's fine, she just barely has anything to play. She wants her wand back, she hunts for it, end of character. She's your typical stock bad guy in movies like this. There are some wondrous action scenes in the movie, but there are two times when the film dips into slow-motion, a style that has always bugged me in action movies.

What drove me nuts the most though, and the thing that truly kept this out of "silly yet fun" territory in my head came at the end. When dealing in high concepts, it is the movie's job to inform the audience the rules of the movie, how the story will play out, how it's concepts work, how they don't work. Anytime a movie just makes up things as it goes along just to reach a satisfying conclusion or to wring emotion from its audience,that always loses me. You can't say that something will harm a human several times in a movie, then miraculously it doesn't and then not explain what we just saw. That isn't an emotional sucker punch, it's not progressive story-telling, it's a cop out. There is nothing more disappointing than a cop out.

I don't know if David Ayer had second thoughts about the script he wrote, or if there is more to the making of this movie than we know right now. But I can't believe that this movie features a script that was cool, hip and strong just to vanish into the ordinary. But that is exactly what happened. The atmosphere, the make-up, a few good performances and few good action scenes can't completely save the glaring story problems that plague this film. I can't think of another film that was in such good shape pre-production, just for the final product to be radically different in the worst way. But such is the case with David Ayer's "Bright." Funny, the original script had a juicy set-up for a sequel, on the other end of the finished film, they fumbled it completely. 

It's okay though, I think I'm good not visiting this world and these characters a second time anyway.


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