Lord of the Bad Boys
When ‘Bright’ first appeared on my ‘Netflix screen’, when browsing through the various other titles, I hesitated for some time over the play button. The premise interested me, as well as the choice of acting talent and from the trailer, it looked very different and stylish. Having seen ‘Fury’ and thought it a very impressive war film, I was drawn in by this title but at the same time, I had some reservations. Mainly being, that despite David Ayer having directed a handful of good films, he was also the man responsible for ‘Suicide Squad’. Being a big fan of ‘DC Comics’ and ‘Batman’ in particular, I was disappointed in a number of things in ‘Suicide Squad’, as were many others. The main concerns were costume design and casting, as they were the two biggest failings of ‘Suicide Squad’ in my opinion. Will Smith is a very capable actor and given some truly impressive performances over the years but there is always the concern that he will be thrown into a role where he is type cast i.e. playing the same character as in ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Men in Black’.
So, going into the film, my expectations weren’t particularly high, and I have to say, having watched the flick in it’s entirety, I was actually quite impressed. Initially, after watching the trailer and seeing images and posters, I was a little sceptical of the costume design. On closer inspection however, I must admit that they have upped their game. The orcs have been designed through a mixture of prosthetics and a clever implement of CGI. There is a still a slightly low budget look to the skin and makeup design but it gets away with it because it isn’t too over the top. A few of the minor character’s tattoos did annoy me, as in ‘Suicide Squad’ but I was able to overlook it, as there were enough other strong elements of the film to carry it. Will Smith’s character Ward is well done. On the surface and particularly at the start of the film, he does feel like a generic smart-arse cop but as the film develops and we learn more about his character, we begin to understand that it is all just an act.
Will Smith gives a very strong performance, but it is Joel Edgerton that really stands out in this film. Both his character and personality of Jakoby are created and executed masterfully. His awkward, clumsy and slightly naive attitude makes him a relatable character, even though he is an orc. In fact, in a lot of ways he is more human then Ward. I feel this is kind of what the writer and director are hinting at in a way. From Ward’s brutal take down of a pest fairy at the beginning, to the corrupt and prejudice human cops that racially abuse Jakoby, the film very much aims to highlight the human nature of the orcs. There is also another reason why Jakoby is such an engaging character. Being a rookie cop, he has pressure to perform up against other more experience and hardened police officers. Combine this with being the only orc in a fully human precinct and it sets the scene for a perfect character development and the struggles that come with it.
The way the two interact with one another is nicely done. It has that classic style of veteran cop forced to team up with newbie officer and much of their relationship reminded me of such classics as ‘Training Day’ and ‘Dirty Harry’. Ward has the unfazed and weary behaviour of a tenured cop but when push comes to the shove, demonstrates his competence as a cop. Jakoby on the other hand is eager, optimistic but significantly wet behind the ears. This team up, whilst a cliché in many respects allows for a great dynamic between the pair and some truly hilarious examples of dialogue exchange. It also gives the film that sense of realism. Amid all the fantasy of orcs, fairies and elves, you have that relatable cop partner scenario, which is instantly recognisable to anyone who is a fan of crime.
This leads on to the matter of the world itself. Unlike most films with a fictional world, ‘Bright’ doesn’t mess about with a detailed explanation of how humans, orcs and elves coexist. Instead, it drops viewers right into the middle of the story. The world is already established, and the characters have already been living their lives. This is not to say there isn’t any explanation. The world itself and the creatures that inhabit it are introduced in three ways: through visual cues, in dialogue and finally in situations or confrontations. Some may find this a little bit too immediate but I think it is a very effective and unique way of establishing the world. It also makes it feel more authentic. Shots of graffiti covered walls with references to orc lore and the transition from rough, impoverished orc neighbourhoods to rich, audacious elven territory, illustrate clearly both the political and economical state of the world, without the need for a black screen with paragraphs of writing, spelling it out for the viewer.
Making a gritty cop film or an epic fantasy flick is a hard task by itself. You want aspects to be familiar, as both genres have their own tropes and trademarks but at the same time, you want to bring something fresh and exciting to the table. Imagine how much more difficult that is, when trying to do that in a film that is both crime and fantasy combined. In a way, the use of orcs and elves in a modern day society with cops and gangs, is different in itself but it still needs to demonstrate an ability to do both those things competently. Personally, I think it works. It has a gritty, urban element that will appeal to fans of crime. There are corrupt cops, dangerous gangs and intense shoot outs. As well as this it has orcs and elves squaring off against each other, a prophecy, a magic wand and a dark lord. These aspects will appeal more to fans of fantasy. By combining these elements, Ayer and the writing talent Max Landis have produced something familiar but unique. At first the two concepts seem like they should not marry up but over time, as the characters and narrative develop and the world becomes more established, they slowly begin to coalesce.
‘Bright’ is a big budget film. In fact with a 90 million dollar budget, it is the most expensive ‘Netflix’ produced film to date. The cinematography, choreography and special effects are very impressive. So much so, that I would have happily paid money to see it in the cinema. At the same though, there is something about the film that feels slightly less polished and glitzy as your standard Hollywood film. The camerawork is one example. Although, the cinematography is very pretty, there are a lot of close, over the shoulder shots, giving the shoot outs in particular, a more realistic and intense feel to them. Ayer incorporated this style in ‘End of Watch’. This style of camera work is more commonly seen in documentaries and by implementing it into a film, you can add a greater sense of realism and prevent it from looking too squeaky clean and smooth. Also, ‘Netflix’ have a reputation for producing films that look and feel different to Hollywood flicks. Mostly this is due to budget constraints but partly because of the way the film is filmed and edited. The choice to make the film through ‘Netflix’ has definitely paid off, as it still packs all the punches of a big Hollywood film but without all the glitzy and sparkly shine that is usually part and parcel.
The film is a nice length. It doesn’t feel like it is dragging. There is a good momentum and pace. Ward and Jakoby are thrown from one perilous situation to the next and there is definitely enough tension and excitement to give that much needed adrenaline hit. At the same time, they spend enough time at the beginning building up the characters and the world, so we feel invested with the protagonists, whilst feeling like the world created is genuine and well established. This accomplished, when the shit hits the pan, Ayer can make it climatic and impacting, making for an exciting watch. There are brief pauses in the chases and shoot outs, where Ward and Jakoby force each other to reveal what each other has been hiding. This technique allows our investment with the characters to grow but because it is only short sequences, it doesn’t feel drawn out or outwardly used as a plot device.
The only thing that was a little weak for me were some of the fantasy elements. The race divisions and class confrontations worked beautifully, as with most fantasy storytelling it highlights issues that are clearly apparent in real life. However, the idea of their being chosen ones, a magic wand and a dark lord seemed like a mishmash of ideas, borrowing off titans such as ‘Lord of The Rings’, ’Harry Potter’ and even ‘The Matrix’. Also, the twist of the film was readily apparent about a third of the way into the film and as such wasn’t as much of a revelation, as perhaps it could of have been.
‘Bright’ is a deceiving film that offers a lot more to audiences that it outwardly appears. With the flop that was ‘Suicide Squad’ on the director’s resume, it is easy to see why many would be hesitant, including myself. Also, with the inclusion of Will Smith, an actor who is prone to being typecast and some slightly dodgy costume design, on first glance it may come across as unoriginal and a little naff. However, Smith’s character Ward is a much more well rounded character then he first appears and the makeup and the design of the orcs, is far more effective and polished then Ayer’s previous attempt. Once you are able to realize this, the film instantly becomes more appealing. The blending of genres was a risky gambit but pays off, as it takes two strong styles of film and merges them together to produce something which has all the traits we love in fantasy and crime but in combining the two, produces something unholy new. The characters, their personalities and the struggles they face, in a world infested with racial hate and prejudice makes it more then just another action flick and the world Ayer and the writer Max Landis have brought together is both relatable and weird enough to be fascinating. The story and narrative has a good drive to it, despite it being a little weak with some of the fantasy elements. These aspects can be ultimately overlooked, as the characters, acting, world, dialogue, cinematography and editing are strong enough to keep the viewer’s interest sustained throughout. It is only fairy enough, that Ayer gets a pat on back for a job well done.