Bright Isn’t Worth Netflix’s Lousy Price Hike

Going into director David Ayer’s Bright you’d be hard pressed to know what to expect. It’s a genre mash-up like no other, infusing fantasy with a gritty cop thriller. What I had not expected was a finished film that utterly fails to capitalise on its original concept by agonisingly undercutting its own characters and themes with unfocused plotting and a hefty focus on more style over less substance.

Bright is set in an alternate reality where fantastical creatures coexist in a contemporary Los Angeles. It poses as a social commentary, explored through the perspective of rookie police officer Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). Jakoby isn’t accepted within any of the ethnic communities. He’s a pariah, an outcast, an outsider; a theme that is heavily prevalent in much of Ayer’s work. Jakoby is a conduit for the existing prejudices between the human, elven and orcish races. Bright is at its most compelling (which is like for 5 minutes) when Jakoby attempts to break down these barriers. Unfortunately, Bright forgoes its racial allegory in favour of maguffin wands, dark overlords and paint-by-numbers plotting that effectively castrates its characters.

Overall, it’s a structural mess. It’s bloated, unfocused and inconsequential. Essential character development is few and far between as whole scenes are dedicated to fluff about the mystical and too dispensing as much gunfire as possible. It’s a worrying sign when your plot becomes the most distracting aspect of your film. Bright digs for some deeper meaning but it’s unapologetic when it is abandoned. Character motivations are either unresolved, unexplained or simply don’t exist and it appears that Ayer nor screenwriter Max Landis actually care about this. If you’re trying to wonder what the relevance of Ramirez’s federal subplot was then don’t bother because the storytellers simply don’t care.

Edgerton is the only performer that brings a dimension to his character. His Jakoby is eager and vulnerable. Smith is laughably miscast as Jakoby’s involuntary partner Daryl Ward. Ward is a spitting image of Smith: loud, cocky and abrasive. It doesn’t help matters that Ward is a character that is completely without purpose. It’s fair to say that this writer rolled his eyes when Ward’s true nature was revealed as if only to give the character some relevance. The film also draws out some unremarkable performances from a supporting cast of otherwise talented performers: Edgar Ramirez, Noomi Rapace and Lucy Fry.

The blame for Bright’s failings will fall at the feet of director David Ayer and rightly so. After the debacle of Suicide Squad, Ayer needs a rebirth of sorts. Unfortunately, Ayer has proven that lightning can strike in the same place twice. He never feels in control of his vision. He enables the film to bounce along irregularly without any regard for his characters or tone. Ayer has always been partial to more style over less substance but I’ve always found he’s been able to strike a perfect balance in the past, but not here. He lets Bright pass the point of no return and that is inexcusable.

Netflix’s $90 million blockbuster isn’t as terrible as its critical mauling would suggest but it isn’t good either. It is just an exhausting exercise in endurance. I would have to agree with the consensus that Bright would be better suited to an episodic format. Its mythology is a potential gold mine and it should be given its own space to be explored. Ultimately, Bright lacks an awareness of its characters’ motivations and therefore struggles to develop them adequately. A sequel to Bright has been already been greenlit by Netflix and this experience has not left this writer with any faith that this franchise can be redeemed.

Score: 2/5