Bright: An urban fantasy for the Fast and Furious set

MANILA, Philippines – The main conceit of Bright is to present a modern world – South Central LA, specifically – shared by humans and fantasy races. Humans, elves, and orcs appear to be the predominant races in the world, and each one fits into their respective tropes: elves are one-percenter assholes; orcs are brutish; and humans are mostly afraid and likely to make stupid decisions. In this scenario, tensions mount. Bright is less Shrek and more Bad Boys meets Lord of the Rings with a healthy dose of Shadowrun.

While LOTR was a sprawling epic, Bright (directed by David Ayer of Suicide Squad fame) ends up being a much smaller story. The movie focuses on LA police officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and his rookie partner Nick Jakoby (brilliantly played by Joel Edgerton), an orc. Jakoby is also the LAPD’s first orc officer, a so-called “diversity hire,” but Ward isn’t keen on sharing a squad car with him. Hints of orc discrimination is common and Jakoby’s commitment to his badge is frequently questioned. But Edgerton makes Jakoby so likeable, so damn earnest, that his loyalty comes across as anything but questionable.   

BATTLE. Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in 'Bright.'

BATTLE. Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in Bright.


Within the first 6 minutes of the movie, we are treated to one of the more jarring scenes in recent cinema: a fairy has been pestering the Ward household. At the request of his wife, Daryl steps out, broom in hand, and proceeds to bludgeon the fairy to death. Next comes that dispiriting line you may have already heard about: “Fairy lives don’t matter.”  

Co-opting the "black lives matter" phrase is obviously troublesome, but the scene brings to light another problem: world building, or lack of it. Most of the movie’s world-building is accomplished via exposition. What isn’t talked about, we’re forced to accept site unseen. Like that fairy. Fairies in folklore can be mischievous, but the ones in Bright are vermin (and apparently like throwing feces). We just shrug and accept this without receiving any prior explanation or set-up.  

The same goes with most everything else in the movie. Ward and Jakoby arrest a drunk, sword-wielding dude who later tells Jakoby, rather soberly, that he’s part of a prophecy to... toss a ring into Mount Doom? I don’t know. But spouting cryptic prophecies is cool, so a cryptic prophecy we get. To be fair, the movie tells us later on that this prophecy could involve defeating a Dark Lord because of course it does.  

Later in the evening, the two cops respond to a call and inspect what we discover is a safe house owned by the Shield of Light, a fringe group dedicated to stopping the Dark Lord. The group needs to use these wands, which can only be handled by a select few, who are referred to as Brights. Amidst the burnt corpses littering the corridors, Ward and Jakoby find one such Bright, an elf girl named Tikka who also has a wand with her.

TIKKA. Lucy Fry in 'Bright.'

TIKKA. Lucy Fry in Bright.


Ward and Jakoby attempt to take Tikka and her wand to the feds, but are hounded by street gangs (Altamira and Fogteeth, comprised of humans and orcs, respectively) and elven members of the Inferni. The wand, it turns out, is a hot commodity and can give near-limitless power. How non-Bright beings can wield such an object, much less do something meaningful with it, isn’t very clear. But Poison, the wheelchair-bound head of the Altamiras, really needs that thing to be able to walk, and make love to his old lady, again.   

The action that comes as a result of these pursuits are straight out of a '90s action movie playbook. The fighting is loud, relentless, and fueled by no small amount of bravado and Will Smith one-liners. Michael Bay would be proud. (See: Bad Boys) The movie seems to be at its most confident when it’s dishing out violence with workmanlike efficiency.  

Speaking of Will Smith, his character is later revealed to be a Bright as well. It’s a character arc that seems unearned, since he’s portrayed as a cynical, wordly foil to Jackoby’s more magic-inclined personality. It’s supposed to be this grand revelation, but comes across as a contrivance.

Bright could have been a better movie if Ayer stepped on the brakes for a second and showed (not told) us a bit of the world we’re exploring. You shouldn’t show us orc (and centaur!) cops only to make explosions and Will Smith’s comedic timing the focus. Kick open those closet doors and show us what’s on the other side of the wardrobe. –