8/10 Bright is an urgent, richly woven film about one bad night in Los Angeles anchored by two sure-handed lead actors.
In the world of Bright, orcs, elves and fairies have existed alongside humans since the age of magic thousands of years ago. Daryl Ward (Will Smith), a street cop five years away from his pension, is saddled with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the world’s first orcish police officer, for a partner. On a routine call to a nasty neighborhood, they find a live bomb — a magic wand, artifacts so rare and so dangerous to use they’d long been thought extinct. In the hands of a “bright,” or magic-adept person, the wand’s power is limitless, and the officers Ward and Jakoby call in for backup immediately turn on them when they realize how much they stand to gain from it. They spend the night on the run from the police, human gangs, orcish gangs and the inferni, a cult of elves who want to use the wand to resurrect the dark lord.
Bright is a blue-blooded, $90 million blockbuster boasting a name director and one of the biggest movie stars in history. This movie should be opening in late June or early July toe-to-toe with Transformers 12 or whatever, but instead it’s being released straight to your computer screens. This movie’s mere existence represents a tectonic shift, no matter who watches it — Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers.
The movie itself is serious, exciting and extremely competent, the way some blockbusters aren’t. Ward and Jakoby are under intense pressure for almost the entire 117-minute runtime, the way the heroes of an action movie should be, and the conflicts layer deliciously across the film. There’s tension between the partners and internal tension within each of them, racial tensions and some pretty serious questions about right and wrong that don’t really get answered — they’re posed, but the plot doesn’t have time to stop and really deliberate over them.
The story is rooted in the unique history of this world, and the film does a clever job of making its exposition on the topic worthwhile. Every time a character recounts history, it’s put into an emotional context, and we’re not being told about the history as much as we’re being told how it affects them personally — it’s the difference between reading about the Rodney King Riots in a textbook and hearing about it and the tensions that lead up to it from someone who participated.
Bright isn’t perfect — there are some logical inconsistencies that are hard to ignore, but not really damning — but I have absolutely no idea why it’s opening at 31 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The conspiracy theorist in me says it’s because it threatens the entire Hollywood revenue model, and I don’t want to be that guy, but it’s really the only explanation I see. This movie is excellent.
But you don’t have to go on a limb to take my word for it — it’s on Netflix.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.