By Casey Campbell
There’s a certain pleasure I get from watching objectively terrible films, similar to the sensation one gets from eating greasy fast food. You know it’s bad; hell, you know it could even be bad for you, but you still go back for more. At least I do.
Here’s some context: One of my best friends and I have been infatuated with the hilariously bad works of Will Smith for the past ten years, or so. We listen to his albums (Big Willie Style being his magnum opus), and watch his more-often-than-not terrible movies. We sat through After Earth, Will’s attempt to propel his untalented son into the limelight (through an M. Night Shyamalan vehicle, no less!) and we were so wildly excited to watch Bright when it launched on Netflix.
Imagine, “from the director of SUICIDE SQUAD, starring WILL SMITH with ORCS!!” It sounded like the most hysterically bad thing that could ever be made. But, Bright has been adored by the masses(?), and obviously destroyed by critics. Does that mean critics are detached? I can safely say no. God no. Bright is a sloppy shit storm of tone deaf “social commentary” on race so miserably constructed that I couldn’t even have fun with the poor dialogue or laughably one dimensional characters.
The movie follows two cops – a human and an orc (a not so good Will Smith, and a genuinely great Joel Edgerton) – as they navigate a fantastical Los Angeles filled with fairies, elves, centaurs, and even dragons (though that’s hinted at, and made me laugh out loud).
Bright contained a scene in which Smith declares, “Fairy lives don’t matter today,” (remember when I said tone deaf?) an attempt to notch humor out of a movement dedicated to stopping the deaths of black Americans at the hands of bad cops. Mind you, this is the same film which situates orcs as the stand-ins for black Americans, yet explains that orcs chose the bad side and that their minority status in America was earned. Fuck, that’s audaciously bad writing.
Or it’s writer Max Landis’s Star Wars.
Despite the film’s egregiously shortsighted writing and lack of character, it’s not completely bad… it’s just mostly bad. In fact, there was this one slow motion shot that tracked around Smith as he shot a pistol at a bunch of bad cops. It looked nice, at the very least. The world they hinted at was interesting but it left too many of it’s actually cool ideas in the dark. It would have made a more compelling series, where extrapolation of ideas could have taken form and characters could have had arcs.
The villain is forgettable, and the MacGuffin is, I shit you not, a “magic wand” that makes you explode upon touching it, unless you’re worthy, or a “bright.” The leads run from gangs and police for the whole runtime, because people want magic, but it’s really devoid of anything interesting or enjoyable. Although, the concluding deus ex machina was really surprising! (Just kidding, Smith grabs the wand and uses it and it’s dumb.)
What’s hilarious is that people are clamoring over Will Smith in this film, despite his character never emoting – lest he shows annoyance over his orc partner, or when he makes a flat humorless joke. It doesn’t help that his orc partner acts circles around Smith, despite having to wear heavy make-up.
Overall, this movie is very strange! I figured even the lowest common denominator of movie watchers would be able to see through the veil of vapid social commentary, but maybe I’m snooty. I’m just upset that the film isn’t funny bad. It’s just bad bad.