The great thing about Netflix is that it is essentially an indie studio with almost endless liquid assets to finance shows and films alike. They’ve broken apart the cable stranglehold on what we watch on TV and now claim shows from Marvel’s cinematic universe as well as original titles like Big Mouth. In addition, this indie mentality with the finances of a major publicly-traded studio comes with the promise to execute strange ideas extremely well.
This is going to be spoiler heavy, so you have been adequately warned.
Imagine, if you will, a film similar to Rush Hour or Beverly Hills Cop III sent through a siphon of high fantasy. This is essentially what the writers of Bright have done. It’s a buddy cop drama set against a world where races from traditionally fantasy genres have existed since the dawn of time. Orcs, centaurs, elves, humans, faeries, all kinds of stuff. The immediate backstory we’ve been given is that these races are all coming off the heels of a very long war that has consumed their thoughts of each other for as long as anyone can imagine.
Ding dong! Social commentary knocking! It doesn’t take long from startup to see where parallels between contemporary society and the world of Bright are evoked in the expressions of specism/racism.
One of the protagonists, Jakoby, is an orc scorned by his race for not being orcish enough, and is disliked by humans because he’s an orc. Profiling aside, the general traits of the races from fantasy realms remain the same. Elves are highly intelligent, orcs are brutish and can take a lot of punishment, humans are humans, and centaurs are centaurs. Honestly, not a lot of innovation is seen here, but we do have the blending of genres that captivates enough.
The driving plot point is the acquisition of a stolen wand, belonging to an elven mage who aligns herself with the cult attempting to resurrect the “dark lord”. The R & D team probably could have spent a little more time coming up with an actual name for this dark lord, and in fact if there is it was somewhat lost in one of the hectic exposition dumps.
Right off the bat, we’re introduced to the metaphors of race when an orc criminal gets away from our protagonists Jakoby and Ward (who is a black human played by Will Smith, so he’s played this role before in Bad Boys but not e-x-a-c-t-l-y). Ward is upset, and an internal investigation attempts to get a confession out of Jakoby that he let the criminal go so they can give him the ax. You see, Jakoby is the first orc police officer, and being with the LAPD we see corruption at every turn from his perspective.
Eventually we’re met with the plot device, the wand, and the secondary item of intrigue: an elf woman named Tikka. Together these two things serve to bridge the narrative from buddy cop drama into high fantasy kingdom-saving.
In this world, not anybody can wield wands. If you’re not a bright, when you touch a wand it makes you explode violently. Wands also have infinite power, with notable examples being able to bring people back from the dead and level a city with the flick of a wrist and an incantation. The larger plot revolving around not-racism-but-still-racism begins when the two officers respond to a call where there is a safehouse full of corpses and the wand (which at this point we don’t know belongs to the elf I mentioned way up above). After the wand is discovered, all the officers on scene try to convince Ward to kill his partner and frame him for something or rather. I don’t quite remember, actually. Anyways, Ward proceeds to kill all four officers there in one smooth slowmo sequence with very little in the way of difficulty. Jakoby is shocked at this, having no awareness of the plot, and is eventually talked down from arresting his partner.
They are set upon by a street gang, afterwards, who is led by a man paralyzed from the waist down. Having witnessed blue-on-blue actions and knowing there is a wand in their possession, a chase begins. The street gang becomes a perpetual bad force until about the midway point.
Magic is governed by the federal government, and it appears to have similar regulations to firearms apart from the “bringing people back from the fucking dead” part. So when these events unfold and the officers find the wand, a subplot revolves around the FBI’s search for the officers.
To recap, we have a number of different stories going on. The two officers and Tikka, the cult, the FBI, the LAPD, and a bunch of gangsters. This presents neverending intrigue as each faction wants some form of power from the wand…. just kidding.
The officers want to be rid of it, the FBI want to contain it, the LAPD wants the credit, and the gangsters want it because it has infinite power. Also the cult wants it because technically it’s theirs. That elf lady. From the beginning. It’s her wand.
Tikka reveals all of this when she is near death, interestingly enough, saying that because they’ve been through things together she trusts the two officers. Which is definitely a bold statement, considering the shootouts and car chases we’ve witnessed so far.
In the larger context of the world story, Jakoby and Ward are part of a prophecy, where they are foretold to be the ones to put an end to the dark lord. After everything comes to pass, loose ends get tied up, the FBI gets their story straight and Ward very much agrees in an official “on the books” manner that there was never any wand. Nevermind someone being brought back from the dead, no one is supposed to know that there was a wand.
The gangbangers get banged, the cultists all die, the LAPD gets to save face, the officers are commended, and the FBI closes the book on something that ultimately had no connection to magic whatsoever, or so they say. None of these things on their own are really original ideas, drawing from all sorts of inspiration ranging from Lovecraft to Grand Theft Auto, but put together it really does play a good balancing game.
All in all, I think this was a pretty fun little piece of cinema. There was nothing overtly new about the writing or the base concepts, but the worldbuilding that went into it was stellar enough for me to see it as a new creation. You can find almost every trope of high fantasy and buddy cop dramas within it, but the writing blends them together and makes its social commentaries (not exactly subtly) fun to see develop. It’s a popcorn movie, for sure. You don’t need to get bogged down by plot threads stretching from the movie to the TV series to the comic to the licensed bags of fresh oranges. It is what it is, and if the initial premise is something you can buy into, it’s perfect for that meaning.
If you’re a fan of either genre, this is for you. But if you’re like me, who enjoys the hell out of The Elder Scrolls and Lethal Weapon, this is only going to be doubly playing to your senses of taste.
Verdict: I’d buy it on blu-ray. But I don’t know if I can do that, seeing as it’s a Netflix exclusive. Oh well.
Also, if the VFX artists who put all that work into sculpting the different races’ faces could get credit, that’d be great.