Bright Review: Defending 2017’s Not Worst Movie

Bright Review
Bright is not as bad as you think. Player.One/Rocco Marrongelli

Despite what the reviews are saying, Netflix’s Bright is a pretty damn good movie. In many ways, it feels like a movie made specifically to cater to me, combining key elements of two of my favorite things: the cyberpunk gaming franchise Shadowrun and the underrated James Caan 80s cop flick Alien Nation. Shadowrun takes place in a near-future world where magic suddenly returns to the Earth, and people are “goblinized” as classic races like elves, orcs and dwarves emerge. So the vibe of Joel Edgerton’s Orc cop teaming up with Will Smith’s gritty LAPD patrolman is exactly the kind of thing I’ve wanted to see onscreen my whole life. And their heightened fish-out-of-water dynamic couldn’t be any more like Alien Nation unless it featured Edgerton pounding spoiled milk to get drunk.

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Some slightly sour spoilers ahead. Photo: Player.One/Rocco Marrongelli

Bright succeeds by doing more than simply imitating source material. In a strange reversal of The Last Jedi phenomenon, audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes are much, much higher than the critics scores. And while those kinds of disparities can usually be attributed to fandom in some way, Bright is a standalone property. There’s no legion of Bright fans pulling canonical exposition out of their asses to justify onscreen slip-ups.

The movie has its flaws. There are some gaping plot holes (why has it taken so long for an Orc to be a cop? Like, if there’ve always been Orcs, it seems logical you’d want some cops who literally speak the language). Some of the dialogue is a bit strained (looking at you, “Fairy lives don’t matter today”) and it has the MacGuffin to end all MacGuffins. The story is basically Serpico by way of J.R.R. Tolkien.

If Bright is guilty of one major sin it may be that it’s little more than a hodgepodge of our more popular fantasy and police drama tropes, without being anything new. But I’d argue that hardly makes it, as many critics are alleging, the worst movie of 2017. I’m not here saying it’s oh-so-good, I’m saying it’s not THAT bad. And if you harbor certain sci-fi/fantasy/cop drama tastes, there’s a lot to like.

Bright does not aspire to be an Oscar-winner, so takedowns like this that imply the movie had some sort of obligation to more deeply examine racism are absurd. It’s a buddy cop movie with a D&D twist. Playful wokeness is about all I’d be willing to tolerate. Would the movie have benefitted from some long-winded Will Smith speech about what his skin color means and what the Orc’s skin means and on and on? And why are people who argue the movie is an inept shitshow asking it to tackle the tinderbox of racial commentary?

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This is more than enough subtle commentary for a movie about magic and shit, thanks. Photo: Netflix

I’ve rewatched Bright to try to find the movie so many hate and in the process found more to like. I don’t think Edgerton’s performance as Nick is getting enough credit. Somewhere underneath pounds of prosthetics and makeup he feels real, down to the numerous shots of him walking in his clumsy, stumble-footed way. Critics have largely misconstrued Smith’s tired dejection as a low-energy performance, but I’m seeing a self-aware actor bringing a lot of his own shit to the role. It’s been a long fall; peak Smith makes The Rock look like Mario Lopez. Now here he is in a straight-to-streaming cop farce. His character in Bright, like his career, nearly died. Now he has to puzzle out what it means to flirt with oblivion and live.

Bright works for me because it ticks so many boxes. Shadowrun vibe? Check. Buddy cop banter? Check. An original idea that's not a remake or based on some other IP? Check and check. And in the long run it will benefit from all the hate. You probably already think Bright is one of the worst movies ever made. Your bar can’t go lower, so watch it ... and enjoy being wrong.

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