Thursday, December 28, 2017

Bright (2017) review

    Screw the critics, Bright is awesome. It is also a terrible movie but it is a great terrible movie. I basically liken it one of my all time favorites in Johnny Mnemonic. Johnny Mnemonic is a terrible movie with horrible acting, huge plot holes, and an utterly silly script but I watch it continuously. I feel much the same way about Bright and have already watched it twice. This is a movie which I think is bound to be a cult classic unless it becomes an actual hit due to the fact Netflix seems to be understanding their audience a lot better than the critics. It helps I'm a fan of Shadowrun and urban fantasy where supernatural races live in (dis)harmony.

Two thousand years after The Lord of the Rings.
    The premise of the movie is Ward (Will Smith) is a black cop living in a fantasy version of Los Angeles. Ward has has been assigned the first orc cop in the nation, Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), as his partner. Jakoby is both eager to please as well as hated by the police as as well as his own people. It's basically a darker and edgier take on Zootopia. Ward and Jakoby are already at odds because the former was shot during a routine call with Jakoby failing to catch the perpetrator. Things go from bad to worse when the pair discover a wand, effectively a wish granting machine for whoever can wield them, as well as a bunch of elvish terrorists who intend to bring back a long dead Sauron-esque figure.

    I understand completely why critics don't get this movie because it pretty much is made by gamers for gamers. Roger Ebert said he had a similar revelation with the original X-men movie. He was initially horrified when he saw it was using the Holocaust as Magneto's supervillain origin before he realized the people around him were treating it as if it was a deeply moving story akin to Shakespeare. Tackling classicism, racism, police brutality, and other hot topics in America with a bunch of fantasy characters in a hard R-rated movie is so out of their wheelhouse that I can't imagine them believing it's respectful.

This movie works great with these three.
    It's not, either, because this isn't The Heat of the Night. This movie has a lot more in common with Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon. The racism element is a backdrop for a fairly bog standard urban fantasy story about an evil cult's plot to rule the world. There's also some incredibly tone deaf writing like, "Fairy lives don't matter." However, even that is just meant to establish the fact Ward has some internalized some of the nastiest elements of the LAPD and is not entirely unaware of it. At one point, he asks like many black cops have been asked, whether Jakoby will side with the police or "his people."

    The first third of the movie is arguably it's most interesting with the set up that orcs are the lowest of the low on the totem pole of society with elves being on top. As someone made an analogy, "orcs are black with a little black added while elves are white with a little white added." The movie makes a smart choice in not pretending racism has gone away. Black and Latino characters both still suffer prejudice in this world and if we rewrote history so they didn't then the whole of America would be a very different place indeed. The justification for this racism is 2000 years ago, orcs were the soldiers of the Dark Lord who remains the ultimate figure of evil to this day. Basically, it takes the premise The Lord of the Rings (or something very similar) happened and people are still treating it as relevant.

Elves own this town.
    One thing I've heard from geek circles is this is a bad idea because it gives a reason for racism as blacks were never the soldiers of the Dark Lord. This is where I think the audience is dumb rather than the movie. The parallels to the treatment of Jews for being "Christ killers" (and the fact we find out the setting's equivalent to Aragorn was an orc in this setting makes it obvious) as well as the 9/11 treatment of Muslims comes to mind. Racists will make up reasons to hate people and just because they have "reasons" doesn't mean they're anything other than self-justifying B.S. There's a moment where a guy talks about how his ancestors fought against the orcs and it reminded me of many Southern pride proclamations.

    Honestly, my biggest complaint isn't the world-building or even the fact the quest for the wand is less interesting than something related to the movie's central theme: say, I dunno, a elvish plan to kill all the orcs in L.A. with a superflu or just gentrify them out of the city. No, my biggest complaint is the criminal underuse of Noomi Rapace as the central villain. She's a gorgeous charismatic actress and her lack of appearance in the Prometheus sequel was why I didn't like that film. Even so, I did love what I did see and also the supporting role of Lucy Fry as Tikki, who plays a bit like Leelo from The Fifth Element. An odd choice but one I'm not going to complain about. We need more Targaryen looking characters in film.

Lucy Fry does a great job with a demanding role.
    The best moments of the movie are related to the initial premise of racism and corruption in the fantasy version of Los Angeles. My favorite moment is when our heroes end up face-down with an orchish gang boss after an epic shoot out. Said boss describes, in detail, how he's been trying to negotiate peace between the gangs and races in his neighborhood for years until the two cops ended up reminding everyone of the danger.

    There's a few other moments, particularly in terms of bonding between Ward and Jakoby, which are very strong. There's some great character building moments where Will Smith doesn't play the usual flawless hero but someone deeply conflicted about his new partner. Jakoby isn't flawless himself as he has internalized some of society's racism against orcs. Both go through a character arc that makes them realize they don't have to choose the police versus orcs but work against the system which makes them choose. Well, somewhat, but you don't deal with the system in one movie.
Will Smith humanizes the supernatural.

    There's lots of decent action in the movie with it mostly falling into the typical buddy cop level of gunfights in public places as well as explosions. The use of magic in the movie is actually quite good with a genuine sense of awe from the people involved. Despite living in a world where its demonstrably real, people are stunned as well as awed by its use. Also, the people who use magic are the most powerful in society and have their own gated communities. You know, how it should be.

     In conclusion, Bright is an incredibly entertaining movie. Not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination but a FUN movie. There's some great moments, some terrible moments, and a lot of fun. It is a world which I found quite fascinating and I'm glad they've already announced the sequel. There's a lot of room to explore the dynamics of elves, orcs, humans, and how they all live together in a world where magic was displaced by science. It feels a bit like Alien Nation and that was a great television series. Really, I think it could have been a television series but I hope it'll be a decent series of movies.


1 comment:

  1. Hmm. Someone call Denzel Washington, I now want to see an urban fantasy version of Training Day.