I am a big nerd. Surprised? Maybe not, but today we live out in the open without fear of being ridiculed or laughed at. Some of us are into working out and being social, and some of us even know how to talk to girls now. A byproduct of all this is that games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and Warhammer are seeing a surge. Some of this might be because an entire generation grew up with the world of Harry Potter at their fingertips, but what do you get when that generation grows up? There is a joke among people that play the table top role playing games, and it goes a little like this: “every new campaign starts off as a classic Arthurian story, but ends as Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.” Can the same be said for Bright, the latest direct-to-Netflix release form writer Max Landis and director David Ayer?
Daryl Ward, played by Will Smith, is an L.A.P.D officer just coming back to the job after medical leave. Daryl has a partner no one wants, an orc named Nick Jakoby (played by Joel Edgerton). In this world, orcs aren’t trusted creatures. Two thousand years ago, they partnered with this guy “The Dark Lord”, who was set to take over the world back then. “The Dark Lord” was bested by a coalition of races; man, elves, fairies, blah blah blah. The world settled into a sort of peace with no one trusting the remaining orcs, who are now treated as lower beings. This is partially why Daryl and Nick only barely get along through the entire movie. The only reason they get along at all is because Nick, the orc, is the only one trying. They’re called to a house where they find an elf girl with a dangerous weapon. That’s when the movie becomes your typical “keep McGuffin away from bad guys D, C, B, and A” (in order of difficulty).
You might be thinking that I sound a little cavalier about the story at this point. What you need to understand is that a basic done-and-done again story is fine. They can work every time with a good writer adding a rich history and delivering that history throughout the story. Letting the characters do the heavy lifting by being more interesting, and best of all, having fun with it all is key. What we get here is a richly told Dungeons and Dragons campaign with magic, monsters, party infighting, and some well-earned laughs. The best part: you, the viewer, don’t have to work as hard to be part of the adventure. You’re already wearing your costume. Please don’t take this to mean the story is perfect. It’s far from it, but it delivers some fun, which sometimes better than perfection.
Will Smith headlines and does the angriest character I’ve ever seen him pull off. Take his action characters: Agent Jay (Men in Black), add Del Spooner twice (I, Robot), Detective Mike Lowrey (Bad Boys), and then add three Deadshots (Suicide Squad). You might get an approximation of what I mean. He’s still fun, but you’re nearly certain that he’ll whoop up on you if he catches you looking at him the wrong way. Joel Edgerton’s Nick Jakoby is sweet, endearing, and very nearly cuddly. It’s a nice juxtaposition that’s been done before (make the normal-looking guy be scarier than the scarier-looking guy), and Edgerton pulls it off very well. The biggest standout is Ike Barinholtz as Pollard, who is able to outshine these two very big stars. Barinholtz is normally the goofy comic relief, but in this he is downright slimy. It was nearly distracting for me, because I was just thrown by how well he was doing in a completely different role than usual. Following them is a clown car of talent the likes of Noomi Rapace, Edgar Ramirez, Brad William Henke, and Margaret Cho to name a few. All of them add richness and depth to the story without ever distracting.
I love this genre, but I’m not sure what to call it. Fantasy? Urban fantasy? Contemporary fantasy? How do you compartmentalize a type of fantasy that casually includes a cholo orc, a centaur cop, and fairies that drunkenly harass bird feeders? But I love it! There is a this and very unforgiving line. On one side, it teases the imagination and dares the viewer to see their own world through that lens. The other side is a sad joke that is laughed “at” instead of “with”. Fortunately, Bright is the former. It effortlessly creates a solid and comprehensive world that invites the user to forget that all of this is make-believe. The design for the orcs, though a little muddy, was a fresh take on the use of skin tones and facial structures. The elves look impossibly beautiful, as they should. The landscape of Los Angeles isn’t anything we haven’t seen in movies like Boyz n the Hood, or Training Day. It’s a rough world made rougher with even more diversity, magic and monsters.
Is Bright an Arthurian adventure or a Monty Python schtick? The scale is going to fall on the side of Arthur for this one. Its an earnest and fun fantasy run through the dungeon that the rest of the world calls L.A. Will Smith still knows how to carry a movie, and Edgerton does not get lost behind Smith’s star power. In a time where everything is Star Wars and comic books, perhaps it’s time to see something from a whole new world with its own rich history.