A Brightness Eclipsed

If there’s a movie that comes closer to the Shadowrun vibe than Netflix’s Bright, let me know, wouldja?

Released last year, this Will Smith vehicle starring Will Smith playing Will Smith in a Will Smith movie takes place in an alt-earth version of LA where magic exists and the racial tensions that facture the world are based on actual races rather than breeds of humanity.  In this world, the orcs are the blacks, the elves are the Jews, and fairies get the broom.  No one likes Will Smith.  In the movie.  No one likes the character that Will Smith plays exactly the way Will Smith plays all of his characters.  As a result, he gets assigned as senior man charged with orc-sitting the city’s first diversity-hire orc patrolman.

The two of them have trust issues, making this a reluctant buddy-cop movie.  They find a MacGuffin, making this a run-the-gauntlet movie.  The Los Angeles in the film feels exactly like the Los Angeles of today, making this a post-apocalyptic movie.

The way the producers opt to handle magic gives it a near-future feeling, and the grittiness of the world helps the more fantastical elements feel a little more real.  Aside from a couple of nice touches – a “mounted” cop that’s actually a centaur and one haunting shot of the skyline with a dragon flapping about overhead – this feels like a living, breathing setting.

The twist ending gets telegraphed, and the characters experience a few oddball moments – see the Spoilerific post-script below.  On the other hand, the post-apoc setting of this LA blows open the doors of what to expect.  The simple MacGuffin/gauntlet plot in which the grand spectacle of race-relations only mattered insomuch as it affected the street-level buddy-cop story at the core of the film was a refreshing change of pace.  The decision to make a few unlikable guys turn out to not be evil, but just unlikable, was another fine subversion of my expectations.  The producers used a lighter than expected touch with the messaging, and never paused the movie to lecture the audience.  On the whole, the film ain’t bad.

It’s different.  It’s a bold risk.  And I’d like to see another film set in the same universe.

On the down side, the film does lose some of its grittiness with a slavish devotion to the action movie pre-execution quips.  The moments of levity, following hard-hitting and realistic portrayals of murder, complete with the emotional wreckage left behind, shatter the mood and reduce the stakes to that of a typical bubblegum film.

You’ve got to commit to the bit.

I’m also going to give the film two demerits for turning sidestepping the fundamental question of elves and orcs.  Readers of A Throne of Bones know what I’m talking about.  The world of Bright dodges the single biggest fundamental ramification of a world were elves, orcs, centaurs, et al. roam the streets – what about their souls?  What about Christianity?  How does religion inform the values of the various races, and how does it inform their interactions?  Religion is the well-spring of the myths and legends brought to life on screen, to simply ignore that leaves a great big gaping hole near the center of the narrative.

One quick line gets tossed out referencing the “Big Battle 2,000 years ago”.  We get the impression that “The Dark Lord” the team of Evil Jews Elves are trying to resurrect might be Old Scratch himself.  But for the most part, you’ve got a miraculous world filled with miracles, and…everybody is really secular about all of it.  The weak defense of orcishkind offered up by Will Smith early on in the film could have had a lot more punch if he’d told his daughter to forget about the bell curve and historic wrongs and rights, and just remember that orcs and elves have souls just like everyone else.

It’s a fine movie that stands just a little bit outside the usual Hollywood lines.  It suffers a bit from having been written by secularists who understand how to write with heart, but who can’t write with soul.

Oddball Spoilerific Complaints

Will Smith kicks off the film with a blonde nurse who might be his wife and might be his girlfriend.  She doesn’t look like the mother of his daughter, shown partying with friends later on.  The scenes showing his family, there to raise the stakes, feel wasted because of the inherent uncertainty of these relationships.  We see him drop his daughter off at grandma’s while he goes to work, but never meet grandma?  Odd choices here, that muddied the waters.

At the end of the film our black orc hero earns the respect of the orc gangbangers who literally shot him in the heart, execution style, and consigned his body and soul to orc hell.  It’s a very emotional scene where he finally…well, that’s just the thing.  He has repeatedly assured us that all he ever wanted was to be a cop, that orc clannishness meant nothing to him.  And these are the guys that murdered him.  The result had the forced schmaltz of a Roland Emmerlich character moment – unearned and unnecessary.  He gets his victory at the end, when the suspicious lieutenant tosses a medal around his neck.



About Jon Mollison

Jon Mollison was weaned at the literary knee of Tolkein, Howard, Moore, and Burroughs. He spent decades wandering in the wilderness of modern genre fiction, wondering when the magic and wonder went out of the world of dragons and space ships. In his darkest hour, he encountered a wise man who handed him the open secrets to crafting works that emulate the stories of the great authors who built the genre. They are easily summarized in but two words: Regress Harder. Now one of the twelve champions of the Pulp Revolution, his self-published works represent a more direct lineage to the tales of action, mystery, romance, virtue, and pure unalloyed adventure than the bland imitations churned out by New York City publishing houses in recent decades.
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