Bright (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Bright</strong> (2017)

(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) The good news is that Netflix is now able to finance big-budget spectacle films, going beyond simply acquiring other low-budget productions. With Bright, we have an urban fantasy film featuring no less a movie star than Will Smith and well-known director David Ayer, with a copious amount of special effects and top-notch technical qualities. The not-so-good news are that Netflix may want to re-read the scripts they approve, because Bright makes less and less sense the moment you think about it. Some of the dumbness is made inevitable by even blockbuster budgetary constraints: Even if you imagine a world in which fantastic creatures have always existed alongside humanity, it makes some sense to shoot the movie in contemporary settings. But there’s “affordable” and then there’s “dumb”: seasoned SF&F fans will be aghast to see a movie in which even the presence of elves, orcs, dragons and supernatural demons has ended up producing a Los Angeles undistinguishable from ours at the exception of a few extra skyscrapers. “Dinosaurs survive; how will this affect Nixon’s re-election chances in 1972?” is the usual SF-fannish wisecrack to describe this kind of incompetent parallel world world-building and it has seldom been more appropriate than in describing an alternate universe with orcs in which Shrek exists. Why does Bright have to be so dumb? Even if you’re willing to suspend disbelief for a while, it’s almost guaranteed that Bright will do something to snap it every ten minutes or so. Transposing David Ayer’s usual LAPD crooked-cop obsessions to a fantasy parallel universe still requires more thought and subtlety than the film is able to achieve: here the parallels with “our” kind of racism are broad and too obvious, whereas the script is so by-the-numbers that it doesn’t take much to predict the entire conclusion. Will Smith, at least, gets to play the dramatic-action-movie variation of his usual persona, whereas Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace and Edgar Ramirez all turn in fine supporting performances. The result is occasionally promising, and just as often disappointing. It suggests that Netflix can play in the big leagues of today’s franchise entertainment landscape (and Bright is obviously designed to spawn sequels), for better or for worse: the days when Netflix could do no wrong are obviously gone.

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