4.5 (90%) 2 votes

Shadowrun meets Training Day

Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: Max Landis
Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Lucy Fry, Noomi Rapace

Swift shot: Back in high school I used to play this game called Shadowrun, it was all about “The Great Awakening” (if memory serves it was a nuclear fallout) where people were transformed into different metahumans: dwarves; elves; trolls; and orcs. It was fun and basically blended the D&D world with the dawning cyber explosion a few years before the internet was launched en masse. In fact, my first exposure to it was at a book store (remember those?). I saw this crazy image of a gangster wearing a pinstripe suit and smoking a cigar, only it was an orc. I bought the game, and we probably played it for about three years, all told. I have a soft spot for anything that reminds me of Shadowrun

When I first saw an ad for Bright, I felt the same way. Actually I thought of it more like Alien Nation, where there is an extraterrestrial species trying to assimilate with humans and work on the police force. I was excited to see Bright, and I was looking forward to getting a press screening for it. But, then I found out it was coming out on Netflix with no theatrical release. Interesting, I thought – and rather than focus on why that was happening, I decided that I would definitely be checking this one out. All I can say is, sorry I took so long, David Ayer!

I am a casual fan of Ayer, but I had no idea he was behind Bright. I was a bit disappointed with Suicide Squad, but my main critique was that he didn’t tap into what made him great, namely Training Day and End of Watch. Speaking of Suicide Squad, you will recognize quite a few of the actors in Bright.

Ayer was essentially done with the cop drama, but when he was approached by Max Landis (American Ultra) to work on this story, he just couldn’t turn it down so some other director could make it. He knew he had to make Bright

With Bright, he and Landis made the most original cop drama set in a world that doesn’t exist within our world that does, and he did it so seamlessly that I left the house this morning looking for fairies.

So, in the world of Bright, there is a different timeline than our own. Over 2,000 years ago there was a dark lord who ruled over the world, and the orcs were with him against the humans and elves. As a result, orcs are looked down upon by just about everyone. And the elves are the elites of society, naturally. There is a lot of dialog that sets up the world without actually spoon-feeding the audience. 

But, there is only one group more despised than orcs, Los Angeles cops. So, when you find out that un-blooded orc, Nick Jakoby (Edgerton) has wanted to be a cop his whole life, you have to respect that kind of commitment. I mean, he’s already an orc, and he wants to be a cop too? Talk about a glutton for punishment!

Meanwhile, Jakoby’s senior partner, Daryl Ward (Smith) of course wants nothing to do with Jakoby, but he’s been stuck with him for a partner. We never really find out why, interestingly enough. But, that isn’t really what this story is about. 

Essentially Bright is a tale about a group of dark elves called the Inferni led by Leilah (Rapace). She needs the wand to bring the dark lord back to enslave the world. I guess you could say that would be bad. And to make matters worse, when the wand is stolen by her fellow elf Tikka (Fry), seemingly all of the Los Angeles underworld (which takes on a new meaning in this film) is after it. It’s the perfect movie McGuffin.

One thing I really thought was interesting about Bright is how immensely lethal a wand was treated. When I think about Harry Potter and how they give these things to kids, compared to how just one wand wreaks total havoc in Bright, I appreciated the terrific power of magic.

As Ward and Jakoby get themselves into a call that pits them against gangsters (both human and orc), the Inferni, and their fellow officers of the law, it will be a miracle if they both come out of it alive. 

With a novel take on racial tension, Bright does a good job of exploring the sometimes despicable nature of humans as they relate to the “other”. As Jakoby is mercilessly ridiculed by other cops and any orcs he encounters out in the field. But as the night goes on, Ward and Jakoby form a bond that can only ever really develop under deluges of lead. 

Edgerton and Smith had a really great chemistry, and when there were moments for comedy in this bleak universe, they both delivered. Oh, and the Netflix community would come down on me hard if I didn’t point out the freakin’ phenomenal job that Brad William Henke did playing orc leader Dorghu. Dorghu reminded me of that orc gangster from the original Shadowrun adventure that got my attention all those years ago.    

The firefight scenes in Bright are on par with End of Watch, and again Ayer captures that fatal feeling of despair, as Ward and Jakoby are faced with impossible odds to simply survive the night. While I would have liked more scenes with elvish intrigue, that is why I tweeted at Ayer right after I watched this film:

I wasn’t lying, I really want as many sequels of this film as possible, because I am in love with the universe that has been created. 

My hope is that some film makers will see Bright and be inspired to create more stories within this fantastic world that brings me back to all those nights playing Shadowrun with my buddies. So, I hope Hollywood is listening, because we want more!

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