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Friday, December 22, 2017

Movie Review: Bright

This is a first for me, a movie review, but I really want to do this one for two reasons: I hardly ever find decent urban fantasy as a movie and the mainstream critics have eviscerated this one which I think deserves a response. As an author of urban fantasy this genre is one that is obviously very close to my heart and I have been excited since I first saw ads for Bright because it looked like something beyond the usual, tepid, tv fair that I've seen so far. I'm not going to name names but let's just say that I haven't ever found any small screen material in the genre that held my attention. Suffice to say Bright did, and I think it deserves a review from someone who loves the genre but isn't a professional movie reviewer.
This may contain mild spoilers, so you've been warned. That said, here's my review of the Netflix movie Bright.



Bright starts out slow, with the initial half hour or so letting the audience get to know the two main characters and acclimate to their world. The particular setting is Los Angeles in an alternate reality where magic is real and Otherworldly beings not only live side by side with humanity but form a fully integrated part of society. There is no 'telling' in this movie, no voice over exposition to explain to the audience why the world is the way it is. We are simply thrown into it. The film uses the opening sequence brilliantly, I think, to explain some basics of the world using background shots and street graffiti. I applaud this choice, as I think it would have been a mistake to over explain the world or have too much set up. We are given just enough to grasp the concepts and follow along as the movie continues and the world further establishes itself. The film also does something that I am personally a huge fan of and do in my own writing which is to shift human racial issues to interspecies differences, although I will add that its clear from subtext in the movie that human racial issues haven't disappeared either. The orcs are lower-class species, humans are somewhere in the middle, elves are at the top, fairies are flying rats, and there are hints of other species including centaurs, dragons, and others* that make the world complex. Its clear although not explained in depth that within both the orcish and elvish culture there is actual culture and also conflict. The world of Bright then is multilayered and contextual.

The two protagonists are well done and well played by Will Smith, as veteran cop Darryl Ward, and Joel Edgerton, as rookie orc cop Nick Jakoby. Jakoby is a first in this world, an orc who became a police officer and there is an integral tension to his position surrounded by people prejudiced against his species. Jakoby himself with his boundless optimism and enthusiasm is the perfect foil to Ward's character, who is counting down to being able to retire and start collecting his pension. There are layers to the relationship between the two that involve perceived betrayal, actual betrayal, and hurt on several levels and I thought that was well built for this kind of movie. I've seen it described in multiple places as a 'buddy cop film' but for me it wasn't that at all, but an exploration of what happens when two 'good' people are thrown together and forced to trust each other despite themselves. I liked that Jakoby's character never stopped reaching out to Ward, and that Ward never relented to the end, and I think from my own perspective there were aspects of Jakoby's behavior that should have been viewed as coming from orc culture, including his loyalty to his partner despite it all and his desire to be a hero.

Leilah is what every movie antagonist should be: merciless, relentless, and utterly dedicated to her own cause. The film doesn't waste much time fleshing out her character, but I felt like that worked in this case; it added a level of dread to have the antagonist be, in many ways, a blank slate. The protagonists don't know anything about her except that she wants what they have and is willing to kill anyone who gets her in her way to get it. There is never any sense that she can be negotiated with or avoided - she is like a force of nature. It was refreshing to see an antagonist treated this way. She is a beautiful monster and the movie lets her be exactly that, without trying to soften her or justify her deadliness.

The Magic Task Force was a nice concept within the world, and I liked the implications that there were things behind the scenes than even the audience wasn't aware of. In a situation where you have a few good people and a lot of obviously bad people, it was interesting to have the Magical Task Force as an ambivalent unknown factor. I also appreciated the implication that there were elves in law enforcement in some way as that added depth to the world.

There was just enough foreshadowing early, particularly with the sword wielding Shield of Light member to make it clear there was more going on than just an orc cop getting bullied or Ward being stuck with a partner he didn't want. I liked that there were human and orc gangs, and there were good and corrupt cops, and I also thought the orc church was awesome. Much of the world building here, as I mentioned, was subtle and simply presented as part of the reality of the movie which allowed the viewer to be immersed in the world without being overwhelmed with explanations. There was just enough backstory and exposition in dialogue, without making the story drag.

I enjoyed the humor of the movie, which had some great one-liners as well as some good dialogue overall. There are points, especially in the beginning, that the pacing is a bit off and the tone wobbles - for example Ward's daughter seems to really like Jakoby when he shows up at their house, yet in the next scene she's angry at her father and saying that her mother says Jakoby is going to get Ward killed and she wishes her father wasn't a cop. That seemed off balance and strange. I'll also admit I didn't like Ward's wife's character at all, but that may be because she wasn't established enough and came off as flat.

There were a few plot holes that I do wish the writers had taken care of. Why did the wand make Tikka sick but not the other untrained Bright who used it? Why didn't Tikka speak English to them in life-or-death situations when yelling at them in Elvish was obviously a wasted effort? But overall I think that it was a fairly cohesive story and that it was effective at tying up its own loose ends. There was nothing in the story itself that I found badly done and the details I mention are fairly small.

I think there's a lot to like in this movie, and I enjoyed that it was solidly an urban fantasy but wasn't afraid to toss out at least a few of the popular tropes. The elves are powerful, but they are also elitists and clearly dangerous. The orcs are physically strong and clearly socially limited to menial tasks for the most part, but they aren't stupid or evil. There's no clear line between good and bad here, just people trying to survive. The special effects were good but not excessive. As urban fantasy movies go this may be the best one I've seen.
I'd give it 4.5 stars out of 5.


*there's a point in one scene where a human looking character blinks a nictitating membrane sideways across her eyes, indicating she isn't actually human, but I have no idea what she is supposed to be. Which I liked.

5 comments:

  1. Skipping over this post... I actually just turned this on to watch, started scrolling Twitter for highlights, and saw about your Fairies book, which I came to look up ;) I'll come back and read this later. Have an awesome night!!
    Merry Christmas!
    PhyllisAdelle in SC

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  2. My thoughts on the wand usage: I thought she got sick not just because she used the wand, but because of the magic she cast. Bringing someone back to life is pretty powerful stuff and being untrained she wasn't able to properly channel or however their magic works. Casting an upper level spell cost health points is my gaming perspective.

    When Ward used it he just cast a more simple straight up damaging spell. Not something that is very complicated. Plus Tikka used the wand to defend herself earlier off camera. The elf woman made into art. She did that and didn't get sick.

    So this also leads me to wonder if wands take on some of their wielders personality. It is doubtful if Leilah ever used her wand to heal someone. She seemed more intent on killing people who got in her way. So when Tikka brought Jakoby back to life she also went against the wand's... personality? Flavor? Theme? And the sickness was the backlash.

    My husband and I watched Bright last night. We're both long time geeks and we both loved it. We want more. As a friend put it, "I want to watch this series, read this book, and play this game." I'm just glad they are going to have a sequel.

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    Replies
    1. that would make sense about the wand.
      They have already signed for a sequel and I am really excited to see what they do with it - and I agree it would make a great series.
      I loved that it felt like being immersed in an actual alternate reality world, with layers and depth, rather than just having some fantasy elements thrown at our world. I think there's a lot of potential in Bright to develop it into something really amazing.

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  3. My husband and I loved this movie! During the opening sequence (which we also thought brilliantly done), we kept looking at one another and saying things like, "It's Shadowrun, right?!" I whole-heartedly agree with the earlier poster that I want to watch this series, read these books and play this game! In the meantime, I'll have to go back to my collection of tattered Shadowrun novels.

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  4. I saw this on Netflix recently and rather enjoyed it...to the point where I wished it were longer or done as a tv series.

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