What would the world look like if fantasy mixed with modern reality? Anyone who has played the Shadowrun games knows the answer to that question. Shadowrun is a series of strategy games set in a cyberpunk/fantasy future. In Shadowrun, Magic “awakened” in the early 21st century, causing Elves, Orcs, and even Dragons to emerge from the shadows and integrate with modern society. BRIGHT may not be a Shadowrun film, but it is pretty close.

Netflix decided to bring that idea to the big screen with the Netflix Original BRIGHT. The story takes place in a world where Elves, Orcs, and Magic have existed on Earth since ancient times. Sadly, the movie doesn’t elaborate on its version of history much. Netflix did release this brief history of BRIGHT’s world a week after the film debuted. It turns out that fantasy nerds love worldbuilding.

A Brief Synopsis of BRIGHT

Netflix’s BRIGHT stars Will Smith as Daryl Ward, a rough, gruff, and seasoned LAPD officer. Ward unwillingly partners up with the nation’s first Orcish police officer, Nicholas Jakoby. The twist: Ward’s redeeming feature is that he’s not as racist as his co-workers. He just badmouths the Orc, instead of violently swearing and proffering death threats. The racism in this movie is almost comically overdone. Almost…

Netflix's Bright Will Smith Daryl Ward
Such a relatable main character

BRIGHT’s Bludgeon of Social Commentary

Unfortunately for viewers, this film is neither subtle nor entertaining with its racism metaphor. BRIGHT is the filmmaking equivalent of Sharpie-ing “RACISM IS BAD” on a whiffle bat and spanking the audience with it every thirty seconds for two hours. It’s shocking and exciting the first couple times, but it gets sore fast.

The abuse doesn’t stop there, though. On top of racism, BRIGHT tackles the evils of capitalism! And classism. And police brutality, and police corruption and… The sore point is that BRIGHT tries to comment on way too many social issues at once. From start to finish, the movie bludgeons viewers right in the eye with its social commentary. The movie’s Orc-racism metaphor is the biggest offender.

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In BRIGHT, Everybody Hates Orcs

BRIGHT makes one thing ferociously clear from start to finish: Everybody hates Orcs. The movie does this in two ways: Through vivid cinematography and racist dialogue. The cinematography is familiar and haunting; the movie depicts cops viciously beating Orc suspects at every opportunity. The dialogue, on the other hand, is memorable in a different way.

BRIGHT’s racist dialogue comes in bite-size chunks, full of one-liners that viewers will choke on. The film treats its audience to delightful zingers like this:

“You know what they say: Once with the Dark Lord, always with the Dark Lord.”

And this:

“My ancestors killed them by the f***ing thousands in Russia!”

Riveting stuff. The only message hidden in BRIGHT’s clumsy dialogue is a plea for better writers. On the bright side, the imagery is well done.

Netflix's Bright Police Locker Room Talk
“You know what they say…”

BRIGHT’s Cinematography

BRIGHT is full of montages that showcase its impressive costume designs. The camera pans over Orcs lurking in back alleys wearing hoodies and thick jewelry. They are seen tagging buildings and cruising around town in pimped out cars. The imagery is striking and, frankly, heavy-handed. BRIGHT makes it painfully obvious that its Orcs are a metaphor for poor minorities — especially African-American people. It is a tactless way to make a case against racism, and the awkward acting makes it worse.

Netflix apparently blew their entire acting budget on Will Smith, because BRIGHT’s police officers act like mooks. Their canned performances, combined with dialogue that is 80% one-liners, make the Orc-racism metaphor feel cheap. Scenes that should be troubling are funny because of bad acting. The dialogue that should be thought-provoking is cringe-worthy. BRIGHT falls flat on its face trying to tackle racism — though oddly enough it handles classism well.

The Rich 1% Are Elves

BRIGHT delivers a striking message about socioeconomic disparity by using Elves as a conduit for talking about classism. BRIGHT depicts Elves as rich, white elitists living in luxuriant excess. Fortunately, this metaphor is brief; BRIGHT uses just one scene to make the point when Jakoby takes a shortcut through the Elven District. The move horrifies Ward, who reprimands him: “You don’t drive through Elf-Town.”

“Elf Town” is a glittering metropolis of expensive shops and immaculate streets. Sports cars fill the roads, and fashion models strut the sidewalks like catwalks. Ward and Jakoby’s police car sticks out like an infected pimple in the Elven District. It’s a stark contrast to the streets of LA where cops lurk on every corner, harassing any Orcs that look funny.

Bright Elftown Cars
“You don’t drive through Elf-town,” – Daryl Ward

BRIGHT’s Police Brutality

BRIGHT doesn’t call it quits with just racism and classism. The film doubles down with heavy-handed criticism of police brutality. Which is confusing because it’s essentially a buddy cop film. Despite the mixed message, scenes that criticize police brutality are well done… as long as nobody is talking. For example, a montage at the beginning of the movie shows police detaining and violently beating and Orcs all over LA.

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The scene is haunting for two reasons:

  1. Jakoby is forced to watch his co-workers and allies violating his people’s rights.
  2. The police violence is so familiar.

Replace the Orcs with African-Americans, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between BRIGHT and any of a hundred police beating videos on YouTube. The violence doesn’t stop on the streets either. The police who cheerfully beat down Orcs on the streets are the same cops who now have to work with an Orc. The thought makes their blood boil. In fact, they’re so angry about it that they flat out try to murder him and his partner. Because if you don’t hate Orcs, you must be a dirty Orc lover, and you deserve to die. The police brutality message would hit harder if the cops weren’t so villainously racist.

Bright Police Brutality
Remind you of anything?

BRIGHT’s Cops are Ridiculous

BRIGHT stumbles when it tries to integrate the police brutality commentary with the racism commentary. The racism metaphor is overdone throughout the film, but it becomes flat out ridiculous when Ward & Jakoby’s fellow officers start plotting to murder them. That particular scene is so bad that it’s funny: The evil officers huddle around the Magic Wand and talk about how the Wand will grant all their wishes… right after the movie has explained that only one in a million humans can touch the Wand without violently exploding. The officers then use the Wand’s wish-granting powers as an excuse to try to murder Jakoby and Ward.

The scene undermines the gravity of police racism and their violent actions as officers. By painting the cops as evil, their violence is no longer about abuse of authority — it’s just villains being villains. BRIGHT’s message about police brutality is essentially, “Cops are violent because they’re evil scumbags.” That message is neither credible nor empathetic. There is so much more depth to the issue than that. It’s a cheap attempt to cram as many buzzword narratives into the movie as possible. BRIGHT tries too hard to run a social reform narrative, and in doing so, forgets to produce a good movie. It had an amazing fantasy premise but didn’t do enough with it. Speaking of…

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Where The Heck Is The Fantasy!?

BRIGHT emphasizes that there are nine races of beings living on Earth. BRIGHT features three: Orcs, Elves, and Humans. Where the heck is everyone else? The camera pans over a centaur once or twice, and a random guy mentions dwarves. Four races are unaccounted for in BRIGHT. Now, I would be fine with that if there had been even one line in the movie explaining that Orcs, Elves, and Humans are the only races that like living in big cities. Unfortunately, BRIGHT doesn’t bother explaining the Magic of its world.

Speaking of Magic, apparently, it’s a huge deal in BRIGHT. Magic can grant wishes, blow people to dust, and literally bring back the dead. It’s also illegal. And that is everything BRIGHT tells us about Magic. For a movie about a Magic Wand, there is a disappointing lack of magic. Disappointment seems to be the lasting impression left by all BRIGHT’s ideas. Like everything else in the movie, the world-building is half-baked.

BRIGHT is a Cake Half Baked

The real problem with BRIGHT is, ironically, the same problem that THE LAST JEDI received so much criticism for. A lot of great ideas went into the movie, and the recipe looked great on paper. Somewhere along the line, somebody *cough David Ayer cough* added way too much salt. The final product is a deflated mess that still tastes good but does not deliver as advertised.

Netflix sold BRIGHT as a modern day fantasy, then delivered a buddy cop movie full of in-your-face social commentary. The kicker here is that the film tackles relevant issues, it just does so clumsily. Racism is a real, and dangerous problem in the USA, especially in the context of police violence as BRIGHT frames it.

It is a shame that this movie butchered the delivery of its Orc-racism metaphor because it had a unique opportunity to make a compelling impact. But for all the crap I’m giving BRIGHT’s producers, I do commend them for trying to make a difference.

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