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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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): A Time to Fight

How to Train Your Dragon 2

“How to Train Your Dragon 2,” is definitely the best Dreamworks animated sequel and might be the best Dreamworks animated movie…I’d have to rewatch “Prince of Egypt,”again before I say that for certain though.

Everything the first movie did well, this movie did better (though introduces a problem the first movie didn’t have) and the movie also dealt with loss, morality and growing up in a much deeper way than the first film. I’m saying all this now before getting into the assessment, since explaining all these things will be spoilers.

The premise to “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” is that Hiccup has been chosen by his father to the heir to Berk and Chieftain of the clan. Hiccup doesn’t feel ready since his passion is exploring and mapping the world, living free and in the moment. Things come to a head though when Drago and his army arrive on the scene and Hiccup must deal with the consequences of this new enemy.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Here is my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Music: The music once again is fantastic. It takes the Scottish theme and even incorporates a traditional tune for a love song that appears at one point in the film. Just as great as the first film musicwise.

The Animation: The animation has been improved. I saw it in 3D and in this instance the 3D is definitely worth it. The details of the dragons and the hair upon the people (from slight facial hair to large beards and different hair styles) is fantastic. They’ve improved upon the first one which already had great animation.

The Characters: The characters are once again fantastic, the main Dragon Riders team has grown up and is given more to do. There is even a three way romantic triangle between them (3 way being that the guys competing for the affection of Ruffnutt feel no ill will towards each other). I’m going to go more in depth on the individual characters who stood out next before I get into the relationships.

Eret – Eret the Dragon hunter played by Kit Harrington is a new character in this film, and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones) does a great job! We see this egotistical dragon hunter ruled by fear of dragons eventually come to accept and love them when Astrid’s dragon saves his life. He eventually is taken into the community of Berk at the end and inherits a dragon.

Gobber – Gobber is gay and the reveal is fantastic! It is sad that he is the only explicitly gay animated character that we know about so far. Get on that Pixar! He is great as the supporting character again and he really is part of the family. He is like Hiccup’s Uncle and an adopted brother to Stoick. He has some comedic moments but he always shines on the emotional moments and the fights. His character grew a lot this film.

Astrid – I debated putting her in the okay area, but decided against it. She is used pretty well in this film. We get to see that she is like Stoick, she leads and is stubborn in her beliefs like Stoick against the flighty Hiccup. This is done well, though could have been done better. She kind of disappears again in the third act as mostly support…though she is really active in the first 2 acts and is once again the unspoken leader of the Dragon Riders (as Hiccup becomes the Leader of the Clan).

Stoick – Stoick is one of the best characters in this movie. We get to see how much he’s sacrificed and sacrifices for this people and that though he is stubborn he listens and is willing to try the path of the people he loves. For example when he find his wife alive…which will get it’s own entry further down…as well as what happens to him.

Valka – Hiccup has an awesome mom! You can understand why she left, given that she saw her inability to harm dragons as putting the village in danger…and that there is no way to build a bridge between Dragons and Vikings. Her role as a rescuer of Dragons is really well done. She is essentially the anti-Drago representing freedom of choice verses Drago’s domination of others.

Hiccup – Is great in this in that he is dealing with his desire for freedom verses responsibility to his people as well as how is world is changed when he learns his mother Valka is alive and is living the life he wants to live (saving Dragons and exploring the world to find other Dragons) and also dealing diplomacy verses fighting given that Drago has no desire for peace and goes about destroying everything precious to Hiccup at one point in the film in his conquest for power. Suffice to say we see Hiccup rise to the occasion and become a worthy Chief.

Toothless – This film is as much about Toothless as about Hiccup. He also has an ascension story as he builds relationships with the other dragons and even finds his inner power when he takes on an Alpha to defend to Hiccup and in turn becomes the Alpha of the Dragons, proving the way to a person’s loyalty is sacrifice and not fear.

The Stoick and Hiccup relationship – Is really well done in this film. They develop their dynamic further and we even see Stoick going out to rescue Hiccup after he leaves to try and convince Drago to accept peace. In the end their mother builds a bridge between them as she represents where Hiccup is and when he sees his Father’s patience and tenderness with going where Valka wants to go he begins to accept that he is a part of them both which leads to him beginning to accept his future role.

The Valka and Hiccup relationship – This reveal could have ruined the film…his mom being alive but missing for twenty years…there are more ways than I can count that that premise could destroy the plot. It doesn’t though, it only compliments it. Valka teaches Hiccup about dragons and apologizes for abandoning him. They do start over and we see her reflected in his as the life he wants to lead. He also begins to realize that Drago can’t be negotiated with when she warns him against it because of that time together.

The Dilemma – The Dilemma is perfect and answers the question, is there a time to fight? The answer is yes. Over the course of the film Hiccup realizes he must defend his home and his community from those who don’t want peace and want to dominate and enslave. This is revealed when he talks to Drago who believes the only way to live with others is to dominate them through fear. He realizes that he was wrong after fear is used to dominate Toothless to kill someone close to him.

The Battles – Are really good in this. The fight at the sanctuary is especially given we see nature and technology used in unison in different ways as the two factions (Stoick verses Drago) takes place.

The Loss – I love bittersweet stories, and this one was. Stoick dies…killed by Toothless when Drago uses the Alpha to control Toothless to kill Hiccup which leads to Stoick jumping in the way. It was sad and I’m glad they didn’t bring him back…it motivated Hiccup to become the Hero and also the reason he casts Toothless away until he comes to the understanding that “Good Dragons are being used by Bad Dragons,” and devotes the climax to rescuing Toothless and his people.

Okay: Drago – Isn’t super memorable in this. He is a one not baddie just like the Alpha Dragon in the first movie. They attempt to give him motivation but he spends most of the film just screaming and hurting people. Like the Alpha Dragon in the first film he only exists as a force of nature. There also is a con associated with him.

Cons: Racism – Drago is the only dark skinned character seen in this entire universe…and he is the bad guy. This could have easily been avoided by making him like the other vikings or even having people from his people joining the vikings. It is this factor (poor planning, don’t know if this was purposeful or not, it could just be stupidity like “Resident Evil 5,” but this factor keeps it from being a perfect film). It could have easily been avoided which is a shame. Hopefully we see more dark skinned heroes in future animated films.

The Director and co-writer DeBlois has done it again and I have to say I look forward to the 3rd film. Hopefully with the world opening up from Valka and Hiccup exploring it we can see the wrongs of this one (racism) dealt with. Let’s see a diversity of people just as we see a diversity of dragons and from that a diversity of heroes from this amazing world. I highly recommend this film to anyone, Hiccup’s story and the relationships are the driving factor and the movie achieves these relationships perfectly.

My Score for this film is 9.7 / 10.