Bright (2017): Good Ideas Trapped in a B Movie

“Bright” is a film that is built on a wonderful idea. Take Tolkien fantasy and make it the modern day world…from here the story tells itself and it is that core idea that keeps the film from ever being bad, even though some of the writing doesn’t work at all. David Ayer also worked on “Suicide Squad,” and I honestly enjoyed this film more as the action and editing are much more solidly done and even though there are many holes in the universe in regards to magic and lore…it never stops being fun or forget what drives the core characters. This is a film that has been panned by critics and honestly doesn’t deserve the hate. I’ll explain more on why, deeper into the review.

“Bright” was directed by David Ayer (who was also one of the producers), written by Max Landis and produced by Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless.

The story takes place in a world where an ancient Dark Lord was defeated and 2000 years later on modern day Earth, humans, orcs, elves and the other 9 races live together in a separate class structure, with the Elves as upper class, humans in the middle and Orcs as the disenfranchised outsiders. The story follows human LAPD cop Daryl Ward and the first orc cop Nick Jakboy as they investigate a mysterious cult tied to the ancient Dark Lord defeated long ago.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing, take a Tolkien level backstory with the whole 9 races and the defeat of a Dark Lord (who it implies as an elf) and now it is modern day and how the war went defined the class structure of the realm with orcs being lower class for having served the Dark Lord years ago. There cultures are really unique too, humanity is basically us but the orcs have blood honor and getting blooded as earning respect, elves are tied to magic and own the government but also have a cult tied to the Dark Lord…and there are 6 other races we learn nothing about.

The Action – This is a good action movie. Even in dark scenes you can see which people are fighting and there is constant tension that drives each scene as we have the build up post Daryl surviving getting shot by an orc. I was never bored during this scene, essentially it didn’t have the Sorceress fight from “Suicide Squad.”

Fantasy Races as an Analogy for Race and Class – Orcs live in the poor areas and the only rich orcs we see tend to be gangsters, humans walk between the different areas and there are elf only areas of town. The analogy for racism is obvious and it works, from “Orc Lives Matter,” and the graffiti in the opening…this is a movie that has a deep under current that it doesn’t need to do much to explore as the story tells itself in regards to the clash between orcs, humans and elves.

The Main Three Characters – The main reason this film isn’t awful are the three main characters have arcs that work. Each of them has changed by the end of the story and that is what I’ll go into in their individual character profiles.

Daryl Ward – Daryl is played by Will Smith and is a family man who was once admired by the LAPD but messed up later on, which is why the force put him with the first orc police officer. His arc is overcoming his prejudice and by the end he discovers he is a Bright (someone who can wield magic wands and magic) and considers Nick his partner as he discovers just how bad orcs have it and grows as a cop and person.

Nick Jakoby – Nick’s arc is embracing his role as a cop and finding a wider role in his people as when Tikka (the elf who escaped the Dark Lord cult with a wand) resurrects him after a orc gang leader kills him he is seen as their savior. His arc is learning to trust Daryl and finding his place in the force and his partner. It is really well done and I loved how earnest his character is. Edgerton did a good job in the role.

Tikka – Tikka is the Bright elf who escapes the cult she is a part of and steals the cult leader (Leilah’s) wand in the process. She is a damsel through a lot of it, which I hated, but once it is revealed to have been a ruse it is fantastic as she both resurrects Nick and saves Daryl quite a few times. She is presumed did until Daryl spots her at the end, though whether this is her or the return of the Dark Lord or something else, is left up to the sequel.

Okay: Leilah and her Cult – The cult is threatening and it is cool seeing elves fight with magic and daggers and Noomi Rapace is fun as Leilah, but her and the cult get almost no exploration. This was a shame as she and the other actors are in it are talented people…but we never got their motivation or learned anything new about the Dark Lord.

Magic Task Force – This is the FBI who arrive at the very end and cover up the events with the cult. They are lead by an elf who has a huge issue with the cultists and sees them as embarrassing to elves. He is compelling but we never get his motivation either, and the Magic Task Force is mostly useless though they work as a plot device.

The Writing – There are gaping holes in the lore and some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy. I’m not putting this as a con because sometimes it works and the world does feel lived in. But it isn’t a pro and does bring down the overall quality of the film.

The Cons: Predictability – The biggest con is predictability, I knew Nick would be brought back to life, I knew that Daryl would end up being a bright and I knew they’d have to learn to work together. I could have used a lot more twists than just corrupt cops and Tikka just pretending to need to be rescued.

Holes in the World – Who are the 9 races? We see some random ones but know nothing about them and their roles, how does magic work? Who created the wands? How did this world become as it was in the present? These are just some of the questions that keep the film from being great as the fact it isn’t fully fleshed out is the biggest detriment to the story.

This is a movie that aspired for greatness and because it did, managed to be overall enjoyable, even with the flaws. “Bright 2” has already been slated and I can’t wait to see what they do with this universe as we know nothing about the other 6 races, nothing about the Dark Lord and even how magic works. If these questions had been answered than this would have been a really good film. I still recommend this one though, it isn’t perfect, but it is a lot of fun and it is a universe I can’t wait to return back to. This is a total B movie, largely because of some of the hokey dialogue and the plot holes but it is worth seeing once.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

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Maleficent (2014): A Tale of War, Revenge and Recovery from Trauma

Maleficent_Movie_Wallpaper

“Maleficent,” is the retold story (done “Wicked” Style) for the character of Maleficent from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” The story is a revenge tale as Maleficent is betrayed and is out for vengeance on the individual who betrayed her and the Kingdom that has been seeking to conquer her lands of the Moors. She curses Stefan’s daughter (the man who betrayed her) and from there the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: Angelina Jolie – She is fantastic! She experiences so many different emotions and does so much action in this role and owns it all. She is what elevated this movie beyond the character and story.

The Premise – Is that there are two realms…the faery realm of the Moors and the human Kingdom. They are at war since the humans are trying to take the faeries resources and treasure. Maleficent is the guardian faery and has great eagle wings and horns upon her head. The Premise is great and explains the magic that Maleficent has in “Sleeping Beauty.”

Maleficent – Is great, there are some things in regards to her character I wish they would have done…but I’ll get into those in the cons. For pros though, her relationship to Stefan and her experience of the rape (she gets her wings cut off, it is just that…her power is taken from her by a man she loved)…is powerful. She is a great believable antagonist and you can see her and her people as justified against the humans.

Stefan – Is a great baddy. You see how greed and power overtook whatever feelings he had and how class corrupted him. He is willing to betray and rape the woman he claimed to love to become king. There are few Disney villains as despicable as this guy…and Sharlto Copley does it well. He’s is great at playing complicated bad men.

The Crow – Is fantastic. He gets turned into a man at one point and is Maleficent’s outward morality to some degree. He was the first to care for her after her wings were cut off and he is there to the end.

The Special Effects – Are fantastic. Sometimes it feels a bit too green screen but it is done in such a way that it is supposed to look that way. It exaggerates the colors like a fairy tale.

The Payoff – She heals from her trauma and becomes the mother figure Aurora never had. I actually liked this…I just wish getting here had come at a higher cost for the humans.

Okay/Good: The ending – It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than “Edge of Tomorrow’s” ending, though it wasn’t as good as “Winter Soldier” or “Days of Future Past,” in regards to the end either.

Okay: The Three Good Faeries – They are harmless and comedic relief as usual…none really stand out except for the Pink Fairy played by Imelda Staunton (Doloris Umbridge).

The Faeries – They may look diverse, but they are either stupid good (the three good faeries and others) or Maleficent. I wish they had attacked humans and been more chaotic, faeries usually represent nature and here they represented the ideal of perfect nature rather than how nature actually is (storms, animals, etc.). They weren’t bad, but they were not deep in any way…outside of Maleficent.

Aurora – She’s alright, but the actress who plays her isn’t all that memorable. She could have been replaced by anyone else and it would have had the same emotional effect. She is a plot device with some amount of agency. She seeks out Maleficent and the Moors and she does action…the thing is this is Maleficent’s story though and she functions more at helping Maleficent release her hate and write the wrongs of the curse cast against her. She is there to remind Maleficent of who she was before her wings were taken.

Cons: The Cost – In “Wicked” the book (and implied in the musical), there are consequences to Elphaba’s rebellion. She takes action against the wizard and loses her love…she later loses her kingdom when Dorothy is set on her too. There is none of that in this, it is willing to explore the emotional cost of rape but not the political fallout of having someone as powerful as Maleficent taking action against those who harmed her. She curses Aurora…and that is it. Everything else she does is in self defense. I didn’t find this believable given what happened to her was worse than what happened to Elphaba and Elphaba killed to free the sentient animals and lost her love in the process. Maleficent gets everything back in the end and never goes all bad…her as a villain against the realm was never believable beyond the curse (in which she adds the “True Love’s Kiss” out). This I think hurt to the tone…if you are going to go dark and the revenge along the lines of “Kill Bill,” go “Kill Bill,” “Pirates of the Caribbean series” got violent for much less. Maleficent had so much reason to become the monster, but she never did. It was for this reason I miss the one of old. She did evil for no reason, but at least she actually did evil. Maleficent helps her enemy more than anything else (raising his daughter, uniting his kingdom as he has them attack her after the curse). I wanted her to give payback, but it never comes…She is always the defender except for that single moment of the curse.

There was so much here for a great movie. They actually were willing to use a metaphor for rape and introduce it to kids…the conversations out of that need to happen to help stop it in the future. Storywise it misses so much though. Maleficent should have been more destructive against Stefan, he deserved that. Frollo and Scar faced major consequences beyond their own self destructive paranoia…Stefan deserved the same and worse. I would still recommend this movie and it was really good, worth it largely for the premise Jolie and Sharlto. It is hard to do retellings like this, there is a reason “Wicked” is the only memorable story of that type, and this is no “Wicked,” but is great for what it manages to achieve.

My score is 8.2 / 10.