Urban fantasy starring Will Smith as a cop with an Orc partner in modern day Los Angeles. That sounds like a pretty sweet premise for a movie and for the most part Bright delivers on the promise of a popcorn-flavoured take on Shadowrun.
Humans, Elves, and Orcs live side-by-side, or well, in separate segregated communities in LA. Will Smith plays cop Daryl Ward, a family man, who's not too popular in the department and has been assigned an Orc partner, Nick Jakoby (played by Joel Edgerton), in an "affirmative action" initiative, that also isn't very popular. Ward is shot in the line of duty by an Orc, and suspicion is that Jakoby let the perp get away as he put clan ahead of shield. It's an interesting setup that puts the tension between races right there in the middle of the two main characters, and it makes for a dynamic that's not the same as the buddy cops of, say, a Lethal Weapon movie.
The title of the movie refers to magic users, a practice that's been outlawed, and the appearance of a wand at a crime scene Ward and Jakoby investigates is that instigator of an adventure where basically everyone, the department, a group of magic users intent on bringing back the Dark Lord (that all races united to defeat a couple of thousand years ago), a Latino gang, and the feds (well, they're sort of good guys here actually in an unusual twist), are gunning for them. Speaking of twists, the main one here is so expected towards the end of the movie that most viewers won't even register it as a twist.
The social commentary is rather blunt and inelegant here and feels a bit all over the place. Cops beating Orcs down mercilessly in the street feels a bit too direct, but what's good here is that while more open-minded than most, Smith's Daryl Ward isn't without his own prejudice. Another thing we liked was that while Ward has a family, one that's even introduced in great detail at the start, this is not a movie where the hero runs through fires to get to his family and save them. When shit hits the fan he makes a simple phone call to send them away from the city and instead we get to focus on the wand and the bad guys. The main villain here is played by Noomi Rapace (Prometheus), although she feels a bit underused.
We feel the movie may have gotten slain a bit unfairly by critics. It's certainly not a great film, but there are elements here that make us interested in a continuation. There are hints and indications of a greater universe, though that also unearthes one of the main issues we've got; even at two hours it feels as though there's not a great deal of story to be told here, and the movie has some severe pacing issues. It some ways it comes across as more of a pilot for a TV series than a feature film, and perhaps that's what some of its critics reacted to.
What balances the negatives out is the premise itself, some rather decent action scenes, Jakoby who we grew to like, and the overall grittiness and darkness the film attempts to explore.
At the end of the day, Bright delivers what it sets out to do; it's a light-hearted but dark take on urban fantasy. Your typical Will Smith flick then, albeit a bit more serious. It's certainly not Smith's finest performance, but it's nowhere near as bad as say the proverbial bullet he dodged when managing to avoid Independence Day 2.