Main cast: Will Smith (Daryl Ward), Joel Edgerton (Nick Jakoby), Noomi Rapace (Leilah), Lucy Fry (Tikka), Édgar Ramírez (Kandomere), Ike Barinholtz (Pollard), Happy Anderson (Hildebrandt Ulysses Montehugh), Dawn Olivieri (Sherri Ward), Scarlet Spencer (Sophia Ward), Matt Gerald (Hicks), Margaret Cho (Sergeant Ching), Brad William Henke (Dorghu), and Jay Hernandez (Rodriguez)
Director: David Ayer
Bright is a fantasy crime story, set in an alternate Earth where humans, orcs, and elves all co-exist. Elves are white hipster snobs living in gentrified areas with other species all catering to their whims. Humans are… well, humans, and the orcs are the folks living in ghettos and forming gangs. Oh, and fairies are considered pests like cockroaches – kill them, kill them! Yes, the whole parallels to racial segregation and bias, et cetera are so obvious that only the most obtuse would miss them, but to be fair, the message here is pretty balanced instead of just going all “Trump is evil! Cops are racists! But fairy lives don’t matter today!” on everyone with a heavy dose of cringe.
In fact, you can argue that this is probably the apology of David Ayer and Will Smith for Suicide Squad, heh. Like that other movie, this one blasts hip-hop music and oozes cool, but unlike that movie, this one serves up ample substance and depths to go along with the cool factor. Screenwriter Max Landis may be an utter twat in real life, but he can sure write something good when the mood strikes him.
Daryl Ward is a cop with the LAPD, who will retire in five years, and all he wants to do at the moment is to not screw up his pension. However, he is partnered with the orc Nick Jakoby, and to say that he is not keen on that is the understatement of the year. Jakoby is already on the outs with both his people and his human cop colleagues for being a cop, and Ward treats him like a discolored pariah. Don’t ever step into his lawn, don’t come near his home, don’t, don’t, don’t – that kind of thing. Nonetheless, nothing seems to faze Jacoby and he keeps making friendly overtures to Ward.
A flashback soon reveals the cause of Ward’s hostility: he was shot on a duty a while back by an orc, and Jakoby let that shooter get away. Not only does this get him into Ward’s shit list, it also increases the hostility between Ward’s colleagues and the orc they view as a “diversity hire” who cannot be trusted to watch their backs. Ward finds himself in a curious position of defending Jakoby, if only to placate the higher-ups and ensure that nothing goes wrong with his pension plan. And then comes Internal Affairs, who want Ward has to keep up pretenses of being Jakoby’s partner to get a confession out of Jakoby for the higher-ups, as those folks are convinced that Jakoby puts loyalty to his people over his job, and they want evidence to fire that orc. After all, just firing Jakoby without evidence will paint the LAPD as racist scumbags, and that will be a PR disaster. Ward is not keen on being a snitch, but refusing to cooperate means losing his job. So what can he do?
Our two cop buddies will have a chance to mend fences and save the day when they end up entangled in a plot by a dark elf cult to resurrect their Dark Lord. The name alone should warn everyone that his return will not bring sunshine and prosperity to the land. Stopping the cult, however, will need some finagling through orc gang politics, elven clan drama, corrupt human cops, and more while trying to make some prophecy come true. All on Ward’s first day back on duty too, damn.
It may be tempting to imagine that, as a persecuted orc, Jakoby is the long-suffering saintly one of the duo, but the truth is, he’s a terrible cop partner because he keeps secrets to himself, even if doing so jeopardizes the standing and even lives of others around him. But when he’s in a position of having secrets kept from him, oh then he gets mad. Not to mention, he’s a terrible cop. He’s wishy washy, can’t pull the trigger despite threatening to do so, seems awfully ignorant when he should be streetwise, and so forth. But at the same time, his stand-offish behavior can be explained by how no one in LAPD, even Ward, treats him like an equal, and therefore, it’s not like he can open up to Ward just like that. His hesitancy is part of his character – at one point, he laments that Ward is the orc he has always wanted to be.
Ward is basically another Will Smith character – a wisecrack for every situation, regardless of whether the wisecrack is appropriate – but Mr Smith tones things down considerably to keep that character from becoming annoying. This character is very capable and streetwise, but he is not always correct. His paranoia and cynicism can sometimes get the better of him, and it is the people around him that steer him back on course. This includes Jakoby, of course.
“I need you to take your fat Shrek-looking ass back into your vehicle and drive the fuck home to Fiona, alright?”
How rude and racist. I love it.
Hence, we have two cop partners who do not want to become buddies, but throughout the course of their exciting night out, end up bonding and knowing more about one another than they may care to admit.
The whole stop the cult thing is actually pretty standard stuff, as is the mysterious elf lady Tikka that they try to protect. The villain is the usual bad guy with little motive other than eeeeevil, and there are the usual chases, explosions, and what not to keep things going at high octane at all times.
You can argue that the non-humans here are just extra blobs and bits stuck onto human faces, but come on, the solid pacing, all that action – it’s easy to be entertained, so what’s a little Netflix-level budget effects, eh? Oh, and the ending is a bit of an ass-pull “I conveniently have powers I never knew I had before, at a critical moment – AWESOME!” thing, and I won’t disagree. But still, I’ve had so much fun. And with the solid acting as well as well-developed protagonists in the forefront, Bright is awesome.