Will Smith fantasy thriller lacks magic

In the film Bright, Will Smith (far left) plays Daryl Ward, a policeman with an orc (Joel Edgerton, left) for a partner.
In the film Bright, Will Smith (far left) plays Daryl Ward, a policeman with an orc (Joel Edgerton, left) for a partner. PHOTO: NETFLIX

Cinemagoers have seen buddy-cop movies and television shows in which one cop is a weakling actor, a robot, a dog or a complete idiot, and the other a "normal".

In Bright, screenwriter Max Landis (the manga-inspired superhero movie Chronicle, 2012) imagines what it would be like if one of those leather-faced brutes from J.R.R. Tolkien's imagination cruised the streets of L.A. in a black-and-white car, with an unhappy human partner in tow and media attention is fixed on how the "diversity policing programme" is coming along.

It is a setting for an allegory about racism, perhaps, or a Neil Gaiman-style story about a city that is all asphalt and steel, but with magic existing on a hidden plane.

Bright is both these things, but, just to be safe, there is a third element: the realistic, ultra-violent police procedural.

This is where man's man director David Ayer - who helmed, some say destroyed, 2016 superhero movie Suicide Squad (also starring Will Smith), as well as the 2014 tank movie Fury and 2012 cop thriller End Of Watch - comes in.

Ayer being Ayer, many, many bodies fall to the ground, cleaved in two by man-made bullets and lightning bolts of elven magic.

Unlikely buddies Ward (Smith) and orc Jakoby (Edgerton) run a gauntlet of foes, both human and non-human, on one very exhausting night.

  • REVIEW / FANTASY THRILLER

  • BRIGHT (M18)

    117 minutes/Now showing on Netflix/3/5 Stars

    The story: In an alternate Earth, the current day is exactly like ours, except that the creatures of The Lord Of The Rings are real. In a Los Angeles brimming over with racial tension, elves sit at the top of society, humans are in the middle and orcs form the universally loathed underclass. Beat cop Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is saddled with an orc (Joel Edgerton) for a partner as part of a racial harmony campaign. Together, they must stop a powerful source of magic from falling into the wrong hands.

The problem here is that when Smith is in your movie, it becomes a Will Smith movie rather than a movie about the idea of magic cops battling street thugs or a world dealing with the consequences of an epic orc-human battle that took place 2,000 years ago.

The actor handles his hard-boiled one-liners wonderfully ("Look at this face. This is not a prophecy face. This is a bad-night face," says a tired Ward to Jakoby after the orc suggests he might be protected by an ancient saying coming to fruition).

Perhaps the lack of world-building might be addressed in future movies as there is every sign that this is the start of a franchise. Here's hoping that, like The Lord Of The Rings films, the sequels are better than the original.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Will Smith fantasy thriller lacks magic'. Print Edition | Subscribe