Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bright Is An Absolute Smash

So this is a movie that I had studiously avoided watching for a while now. It looked dumb as shit, I'm not gonna lie. I had also seen snippets in various trailers that didn't do much to mollify my opinion. Seeing Will Smith's character yell, "Fairy lives don't matter today!" wasn't exactly encouraging, given that I'm part of a literary movement that wants to kick politics out of writing/film/etc as much as possible, I'm not looking for a movie that plays to either side of the current political divide, right or left. I'll still laugh at jokes that agree with my politics, because I agree with them, but at the end of the day a fun sci-fi/fantasy/drama romp with a good plot and decent acting and writing is all I'm looking for. I don't want something that plays to my biases.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I was wrong about Bright.

I know, stop the presses, holy shit I was wrong about something. Shockingly enough, that tends to happen more often than I'd like, and Bright totally blew me away. Going in I was fully expecting a bare-bones buddy cop movie with heavy political overtones that were an obvious allegory to what's currently going on in politics, and there are some nods in that direction, to be sure.

But first and foremost, this movie is built to be entertaining, which as Bradford C. Walker has stated, should be the primary goal of any piece of fiction. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but I can't make any promises. 

The basic plot of the movie is that at some point in the past there was a war against a Dark Lord, and the orcs chose to fight on his side. This has led to a certain stigma against orcs, which has caused them to be ghettoized to an extent. Human society has dealt fairly well with the introduction of fantasy races, developing to a technological level about on par with what we have now in the real world.

Magic exists, and it's incredibly dangerous, only able to be wielded by a select few, called Brights. There are magic wands, and if you're not a Bright, simply picking one up could have disastrous consequences to say the least. This is most definitely not a universe where the average person can become a wizard, or Bright, through diligent study a la Dragonlance.

There is what could charitably be called a cult looking to bring back the Dark Lord, and another cult looking to stop it. These two are constantly engaged in a kind of underground war, and both are despised by the authorities, but things are coming to a bit of a head when our story takes place, and it falls to our unlikely and (sometimes) unwilling heroes to put a stop to it and save the world from the return of the Dark Lord.

Will Smith plays a police officer five years out from retirement, just trying to do his job and get by without any trouble. For unknown reasons (to me, at least, as I only watched the movie once, maybe they did go into it) nobody wants to partner up with him. He does his job, but he's not overly nice about it, and simply views it as a paycheck. He doesn't have any high-minded ideas about justice or the greater good weighing him down. 

Joel Edgerton (whose work I'm not personally familiar with outside of this film) plays the first orc law enforcement officer in the world. He's a rookie, and despised by his own people, who see his turn to law enforcement as a betrayal. But this is what he wants to do and he is determined to be good at his new job. He doesn't suck up to Ward (Smith's character), but throughout the first half of the movie it becomes clear that he's an idealistic cop who wants to do right and clean up the streets. 

And absolutely nobody wants to partner with him, because he's an orc. Including Ward.

These two being basically mashed together despite mutual antipathy leads to some of the best character interaction I've seen in a non-established movie series since some of the earlier Marvel movies. Smith and Edgerton play off of one another so well it's almost akin to something like Reservoir Dogs, or Goodfellas, in the sense of you put two great actors in a room or car together, and they're constantly trying to out-do one another. 

I'll come out right now and say I think Smith is an amazing actor, and I haven't seen a movie that he's acted in that I've disliked, or that I think he's done a bad job in. Hancock, I, Robot, I Am Legend, all of these movies I think he did a great job as the character he was attempting to portray, and I think he gets unnecessarily shat on because he's Will Smith. Much like Keanu Reaves gets shat on because he's Keanu. 

Reaves' performance as Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula is to die for, and if you think he did a bad job as Robert Arctor in A Scanner Darkly I'd advise you to go watch that again and pay close attention to his performance. Smith, like Reaves, is actually a solid actor, and given the right role and proper direction he's able to shine and bring a special bit of personality to a role that few other actors can match. And this absolutely bears true in Bright.

His character is a street-level cop that's seen too much, is far too jaded for his own good, and absolutely refuses to put up with other characters' bullshit. He calls people on their shit immediately, but is also willing to make deals to save his own skin. At the same time, he's willing to abandon said deals just because he knows the people engaging him are trying to fuck him. Smith brings this character to life with a realness that I doubt other actors put in the same roll could deliver. 

Edgerton, on the other hand, brings a bit of almost whiteness to his role. He's awkward, he doesn't understand how to act in police culture within the context of the movie, he gets why people dislike him but is determined to prove them wrong, and his delivery of the dialogue is spot on. Personally I don't think they could've cast a better person as Jakoby, and I'm looking forward to seeing other programs Edgerton has acted in. I might've seen him here or there in minor roles in the past, but regardless I'm going to be paying attention to his career in the future. The guy's damn good, and he played Jakoby to the hilt in this movie. 

So far as the character interaction in this movie goes, Smith and Edgerton have serious chemistry. I'm talking chemistry like Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor had chemistry. These two play off one another so well that if I had any faith in any film awards ceremonies anymore I'd nominate them for everything they were available for with regards to this movie. Once again, this goes back to my comparison to Reservoir Dogs or Goodfellas.

If you put two amazing actors in a room together and tell them to play off one another, they should immediately start trying to out-do one another. This is the precise dynamic we see in Bright. Smith and Edgerton are constantly trying to one-up each other, and the overall effect doesn't lead to overacting as seen in Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Gurney Halleck in Dune, wherein if he's on screen, he's the most overly dramatic motherfucker on the screen. These two build on each others' portrayal of their characters very naturally, and the overall effect comes across like a buddy cop movie straight out of the 80's, with all the animosity, rivalry, ribbing, and eventual getting-along that entails.

Which leads me to my next point, the buddy cop dynamic. If you'll remember, most 80's buddy cop movies had the two characters be initially combative, but eventually set aside their differences in the face of the greater threat. Through combating this greater threat they come to understand and have a grudging respect for one another, and even develop a rudimentary friendship to hopefully be expanded on in future sequels. This is precisely the kind of relationship we see in the main characters in Bright, and it was very refreshing in the Era of Subversion™ to see this dynamic played completely straight as it was in the movies in this genre that preceded it. 

The writing in this movie is also extraordinarily good. The dialogue sounds 100% natural, and it was nice to see Will Smith getting another role that allowed him to talk straight as a character (like in Hancock) rather than make the character out to be something he's not. He's a reluctant hero, but a hero he becomes. Not through some prophecy, but by a combination of predestination and his choices as a person, which make perfect sense within the context of the events in question.

Which leads me to my one gripe with this movie. There are politics in it.

This is by no means an overriding message the movie is putting before the story. Make no mistake, Bright is meant to be a fun, buddy cop, urban fantasy, let's-save-the-world-even-though-we're-nobody's-and-probably-can't romp before it's meant to be any kind of political commentary. However, with a producing studio named Trigger Warning, we can expect a couple of political messages with our fiction.

The scene I mentioned at the beginning of this review is probably the worst offender in this regard. Fairies are regarded as a nuisance in this world, and one is bothering Ward's bird feeders. His wife orders him to go kill it, and he proclaims to a crowd of gangsta motherfuckers, "Fairy lives don't matter today!" and proceeds to beat the fairy to death with a broom, because they're little better than vermin.

There was also specific mention of "diversity hires" several times in the movie, and allusions to law enforcement being constrained by diversity education and having to make allowances for Jakoby because muh diversity rather than him having proven himself worthy of being a cop. I'm not going to lie, this shit is tired. 

I don't really care which side of the political spectrum you happen to be on. I'm obviously more right-leaning, myself, but I'm not looking for fiction that plays to my personal biases. I'm looking for entertaining stories. That's why I've studiously avoided the vast majority of Hollywood movies that have come out in the past few years, as well as shows and movies on Netflix.

I'm not interested in this kind of shit.

If you want to make mild political points or jokes, fine, be my guest. As long as it doesn't detract from the overall story, I'm good with it. For example, in Welcome to Night Vale (before I stopped listening because the main voice actor told me personally on Twitter I should be physically assaulted because I disagreed with him politically), they make several jokes about gun nuts. I admit that gun nuts are kinda crazy, and despite essentially being one I can take and even laugh at some good-natured jabs at our side. Especially if the fiction is overall very good. 

What I don't countenance is preaching, and I'm happy to report that although Bright engages in lighthearted jabs towards the left-wing and right-wing of politics, none of this is overbearing, has any real weight it applies to the story, and are nothing more than one-time gags played for laughs and quickly abandoned. They make their joke, often in one line of dialogue, and move on. The overall plot itself is able to be enjoyed while completely ignoring these jokes. Few of them that I noticed were plot-specific, and the ones that were are inoffensive unless you're just looking for something to bitch about.

There is definite political commentary there, but like any good story it's delivered within the context of the world they're presenting to you, and any allegorical connotations can be safely ignored in the interest of enjoying the overall story. These jokes can be safely written off as, "Oh, they're ripping on BLM," or, "Oh, they're ripping on racists," because while some of them have a bearing on the overall plot, they're one-note jokes and are quickly lost in the onrushing stream of the actual plot of the movie.

Which, I think, might have something to do with its critic ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. 

At the time of this writing, Bright has a rating of 27% from critics, but 87% from fans on the aggregate review site. I think this might be because Bright is an actual heroic adventure story, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Understand, Bright is the story of two cops finding out that a cult is operating in their jurisdiction to bring about the second coming of the Dark Lord and slaughter billions of people, and these two unlikely assholes figure it's their duty to stop it. These two characters are beat to shit, shot, blown up, run over with cars, and god only knows what else, and yet they persevere in their quest to stop this horrible thing from happening.

They're not heroes out of legend, they're just the guys who were there, and were able to do something about it. 

This is 100% a heroic adventure story akin to The Lord of the Rings, wherein a couple of random, no-account people were in the wrong place at the right time, and decided they had to fix things, because if they didn't then who would? They didn't want to be there, but they were, so they might as well try to save the damned world. 

This is an unabashed, unapologetic, urban fantasy pulp romp, and I couldn't enjoy it more if I tried. If you have Netflix, you could do far, far worse than spending the two or so hours it would take you to watch this movie. There's also a shoutout to my personal favorite movie of all time, The Fifth Element, when they pick up the Elven chick and she's spouting incomprehensible gibberish in the back of the car while they're being trailed by people who very much want to hurt them and her.

And fam.

If you're going to do a shoutout, however subtle, to my top-tier favorite movie in the history of film...

Well, I don't have much choice but to endorse your movie. Simple as that.

Go watch Bright. It's fun as fuck. Moreover, it's fun as fucking. This movie is like good sex, and like with good sex I may have my gripes, but those gripes are mere nitpicks. Overall there is nothing wrong with this movie, and I'm very much looking forward to the sequel. Smith and Edgerton did an amazing job in this movie, and the overall product is absolutely worth your time.

Ignore the critics, and go watch this movie. 

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