Netflix's new urban fantasy movie Bright, starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, has been savaged by critics and described as the "worst movie of 2017," but Netflix viewers who give it a chance might find themselves pleasantly surprised. The streaming service has been investing heavily in original movies, like the charming (but harrowing) Okja and child-soldier drama Beasts of No Nation. Bright, a buddy-cop action film set in a world where humans, orcs, elves and other magical creatures co-exist in a world otherwise much like our own, was directed by David Ayer (Suicide Squad) and developed from an original script by Max Landis (Chronicle).
Smith and Edgerton play cop partners Daryl Ward and Nick Jakoby, respectively. Jakoby, as the first orc officer to join the LAPD, is an outcast and derided as a "diversity hire" (if you've seen Zootopia, you know the drill). Ward was recently shot in the chest by an orc while on duty, and the movie begins with the two officers being uncomfortably reunited following Ward's convalescence. He doesn't have much time to ease back into things, however, as Ward and Jakoby soon find themselves embroiled in a deadly game of capture the flag, after finding a catastrophically powerful magic wand that has dirty cops, the FBI, multiple gang leaders and a band of elven terrorists chasing after it.
Related: The Most Brutal Reviews of Bright
As of the time of writing, Bright's Rotten Tomatoes score is sitting at 30%, and critics didn't hold back. IndieWire gave it the "worst movie of 2017" accolade and adds, "You couldn’t have a worse experience in a movie theater if you saw 'Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom' in 4DX." Vox called it "a big waste of everybody's time." Entertainment Weekly dismissed it as, "lazy nonsense that's too silly to be good and too self-serious to be any fun." Even Screen Rant's own review describes Bright as, "a muddled mess of a film that fails to produce any fresh concepts or creative ideas."
If you watch Bright out of morbid curiosity, perhaps expecting a fantasy version of Battlefield Earth, you'll soon find that it doesn't quite live up to its notoriety. It may not be the best movie of the year, or even the best Netflix movie of the year, but R.I.P.D. it is not. In the main Reddit discussion of the movie, the general consensus is that Bright is flawed but fun, with some favorably comparing it to the tabletop RPG Shadowrun, and others praising its world-building. Many commenters indicated that they'd like to see more of the world - whether in the upcoming sequel or a spinoff TV show. And, for what it's worth, the user rating on Rotten Tomatoes is currently 90%.
Despite its weaknesses, which include some cheesy dialogue and some incredibly pointless lore that could easily have been dropped, there's a lot to like about Bright. Will Smith fits comfortably into the cynical veteran cop role, and Edgerton is a great foil for him as the amusingly naive Jakoby. There are car chases, shoot-outs, and selective but memorable use of slow-mo. And, as others have noted, Bright's world-building (confusing lore aside) is executed very well. There's no long, boring opening monologue explaining the alternate history of the world and all the factions; instead we're introduced to this version of Los Angeles via a montage of graffiti highlighting the tensions between the races. Best of all, the movie casually throws in tantalizing glimpses of the magical world that are not highlighted or explained by the characters - like a brief shot of a dragon flying over the city at night.
One area where Bright has received almost universal criticism is its handling of racial politics, but really the worst thing about this aspect of the movie is how little it's explored. The message doesn't get much deeper than "racism is bad," though Jakoby's character arc is based around the conflict he feels due to being torn between his identity as an orc, and his identity as a cop. For the most part, Bright treads a well-worn path; the trope of racism between different species of magical creatures is so common in the fantasy genre that it's barely noteworthy here.
Like Ayer's previous film, Suicide Squad, Bright suffers from occasional dodgy dialogue, a forgettable villain, and end-of-the-world stakes that feel kind of forced. But it's by no means the worst movie of 2017, and while the reception has been mixed on both sides of the critic/general audience divide, some people are finding a lot to love about it.
Since Bright is on Netflix, watching it isn't as much of a commitment as spending money on a ticket and popcorn. We recommend checking out at least the first 15 minutes to see if it grabs your interest, rather than dismissing it solely based on the reviews.
- Bright (2017) release date: Dec 22, 2017