Netflix cop/fantasy mash-up misfires
After a year which has included Okja, The Meyerowitz Stories and Mudbound, Netflix – correction, Netflix Originals – aims to finish 2017 on a high with the closest it’s come so far to a big Hollywood-style blockbuster. Bright has the star (Will Smith), the director (David Ayer) and the budget ($90 million). The latter makes it Netflix’s most expensive film ever. And that, in anybody’s book, is a massive vote of confidence. Although memories of Smith and Ayer’s previous outing might temper that.
The similarities between Bright and Ayer’s End Of Watch (2012) are obvious from the outset. Two cops out on patrol in Los Angeles facing a life or death situation. But this is a different vision of LA, one where sectors of the city are devoted to fantasy creatures – elves, fairies and orcs. There’s even a centaur traffic cop, but we only see him in passing, more’s the pity. Orcs are the underclass, as witnessed by the graffiti in the opening moments, elves are slick, affluent and behind much of the trouble in the film. And while Smith is the cynical human cop Ward, his partner Jakoby (a totally unrecognisable Joel Edgerton) is an orc, the first one ever to be employed by the LAPD. Put simply, it’s Lord Of The Rings meets End Of Watch.
Such a mash-up of two familiar movie genres is ambitious and comes laden with possibilities. Ayer goes for the obvious theme, the discrimination faced by Jakoby, who is vilified and openly despised, especially when he’s believed to have let a suspect slip through his fingers – an orc thought to have shot Ward. The cops aren’t backwards in coming forwards with their hostility and it spreads to Ward himself. That said, he’s not going to win a popularity contest at the precinct either: he and his partner are both so disliked that their only choice is to ride together. But there’s only so far the film can go with the idea and it reverts to something closer to a buddy movie as it plays out a complicated plot involving an all-powerful magic wand pursued by dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace). A word of warning: miss the opening caption about the power of that wand, and you won’t stand a chance of understanding what’s going on.
The Smith/Edgerton combo, like the premise itself, has potential, but it’s hampered by attempts at throwaway banter which are contrived and clumsy. So, while watching something that attempts to break the mould in this risk-averse times has its appeal, it’s short lived. The film simply doesn’t deliver and the two genres are an awkward, uncomfortable fit. Worse still, there’s something inherently ridiculous and childish about badass cops having deadly serious conversations about a magic wand that grants wishes.
While Ayer and his screenwriter Max Landis deserve credit for trying to create something different, a new angle to a familiar idea, the truth is that it’s not paid off. While the result occasionally sparks into life – Rapace looks great as the dark elf but has precious little else to do – for most of the time it’s a mis-match forced to rely heavily on Smith and Edgerton to keep the audience interested. And they seriously have their work cut out. Netflix hasn’t ended the year in the way it was hoping for – and it’s cost them a mint.
Bright is released on Netflix on Friday, 22 December.