Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen -

DI­REC­TOR David Ayer

CAST Will Smith, Joel Edger­ton, Lucy Fry, Noomi Ra­pace

PLOT In an al­ter­nate Los An­ge­les where fan­tasy crea­tures are a fact of life, De­tec­tive Ward (Smith) and his orc part­ner Jakoby (Edger­ton) re­spond to a call, only to dis­cover a ter­ri­fied elf (Fry) with a mag­i­cal arte­fact that prac­ti­cally ev­ery­one is will­ing to kill for.

IF YOU CAN imag­ine a world in which Peter Jack­son’s The Lord Of The Rings is classed as a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­tary, then you’re not far off the set­ting of David Ayer’s Bright. Two thou­sand years af­ter ‘The Dark Lord’ was de­feated, a menagerie of fan­tasy crea­tures co-ex­ist in mod­ern Amer­ica. Elves swan around Rodeo Drive shop­ping for Gucci loafers, fairies sift through rub­bish like sparkly, winged rac­coons, while orcs have been rel­e­gated to a brutish un­der­class, still liv­ing down the mil­len­nia-old faux pas of sid­ing with the Big Bad. It’s a su­perb con­ceit that draws on Tolkien lore, throws in a dash of ’90s RPG prop­erty Shad­owrun and acts as a mir­ror for the ra­cial di­vi­sions of mod­ern-day Amer­ica.

At least that’s the idea. The ex­e­cu­tion, un­for­tu­nately, doesn’t live up to the premise. From big­oted cops to slimy IA suits and su­per­cil­ious feds, the char­ac­ters are drawn with strokes broader than a cave troll’s but­tocks. Even Smith, one of the most ef­fort­lessly charm­ing ac­tors alive, is re­duced to a growl­ing, surly flat­foot, barely con­ceal­ing his re­sent­ment at a part­ner foisted upon him by the depart­ment’s di­ver­sity ini­tia­tive.

The ra­cial sub­text it­self would have more po­tency if the fan­tasy fac­tions weren’t so stereo­typ­i­cal them­selves. Snooty elves are por­trayed as the so­cial elite, while orcs are thrash-me­tal-lov­ing street thugs who sneer at any who re­main ‘un­blooded’ — a barely ex­plored rit­ual that seems to sub for an or­cish bar mitz­vah. The broader fan­tasy set­ting is squan­dered, too, with a cen­taur traf­fic war­den and the sil­hou­ette of a lone dragon flap­ping across the An­gelino sky­line that only hints at a deeper mythol­ogy. Par­al­lels to mod­ern prej­u­dices are still felt, but it’s hard not to feel this was all achieved more art­fully by Alien Na­tion back in 1988.

The story is sim­i­larly un­de­vel­oped. Magic users (‘brights’) are reg­u­lated by fed­eral law and magic wands treated as el­dritch WMDS. So when Jakoby and

Ward stum­ble upon one such glow­ing Macguf­fin, we’re pulled into a street-level pur­suit movie, scram­bling from venue to venue while dodg­ing fire from a po­tion of Latin gang­sters, an or­cish death cult and Ra­pace’s band of ninja elves. There are sparks of solid ac­tion amidst the con­fu­sion, but Max Lan­dis’ script con­tains too much stilted di­a­logue to prop­erly ig­nite.

Com­ing af­ter Sui­cide Squad, this isn’t the David Ayer re­turn to form we’d hoped for. Nei­ther is it the big win Net­flix wanted, hav­ing dropped $90 mil­lion on the project and won a bid­ding war with Sony and Warner to prove that block­busters are no longer the do­main of cin­e­mas. Net­flix may in­deed prove that streaming is the future, but that future isn’t Bright. JAMES DYER

VER­DICT Worth watch­ing for the sight of Will Smith beat­ing a fairy to death with a broom, but it takes a far more so­phis­ti­cated grasp of the fan­tasy con­cept to re­ally get away with Mor­dor.

Where’s Gan­dalf when you need him?

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