So I watched Netflix’s heavily advertised $90 million urban fantasy movie, Bright. I also got my hands on the February 2016 draft of the script that is making rounds on the Internet. And I realized one thing:
Keep David Ayer Away From Fantasy Properties
The critics panned Bright just as they did Ayer’s previous big-budget, speculative fiction vehicle, and that would be Suicide Squad. Why? Because it’s a jumbled mess. It’s a tenuously linked parade of set-pieces, wisecracks and pompous, cliched excuses at setting up a plot. It looks like someone took a cop film in the vein of Training Day or End of Watch and ineptly spilled airport fantasy cliches all over it. Who’s to blame?
The answer lies in the script. The script, written mostly by Max Landis, tries to trace something resembling a basic plot and answer the most important questions one would have. It goes from A, to B, to C, with quick, minimal explanations how wands work when one turns up and why it’s a bad idea for untrained people to wield it. Somehow, Ayer rewrote that from “a very powerful gun that you’ll shoot your eye out with if you haven’t trained for years to use it and can fetch a high price on the black market” to “eeevil nuclear weapon that will kill you and everyone in twenty-foot radius if you weren’t born right”. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Max Landis, pop culture’s enfant terrible, had the idea that being a Bright, a powerful magic user, wasn’t a mostly racial thing.
Ayer’s fuckups don’t end on this, obviously. That ridiculous idea of “Elf Town”, and elves being something of the world’s ruling caste? Nope, not Landis. Blowing the entire “impending apocalypse” thing from two lines to an entire movie is entirely Ayer as well, and same goes for Nick Jakoby, the orc cop, being less of a by-the-book, trying-to-fit-in police officer trying to prove himself and more of a wide-eyed goober. Which, considering that Ayer churned out no less than five cop movies before, is particularly confusing - as is the stripping of some professional trust between Jakoby and Ward. All of it in order to force in…
Fun fact: Max Landis originally wrote officer Ward as white. A white guy taking care of a former stripper and her kid. Then someone got the bright idea to cast Will Smith in the role, and that’s when the shit broke down.
Will Smith’s supposedly funny quips throughout the movie are jarring. He’s hogging the spotlight, culminating in the “Shrek” tirade you already know from the trailer, and the more “funny” he is, the more actual important details fade out. The two feds supposed to provide exposition on the secret organization that found the wand are unceremoniously pulled out of focus. And like I just said, Jakoby, as a straight man, gets turned into a wide-eyed goober. Even the final scene, instead of a short, clean reveal involving a call-back to several scenes and granting some more agency to the elven fed, we get a “funny” scene of the protagonists denying each other’s words in front of the elven fed who just, well, stands there.
So What’s Left In The Movie?
Like I said: dumb action set-pieces and supposedly funny exchanges between the protagonists, plus three Terminator-like antagonists, of which only the leader, Leilah, has something to say, and ¾ of that “something” fits in her part of the trailer. I shit you not. Additionally, the movie revels in police brutality that was hastily thrown in (note, once again Max Landis surprisingly had nothing to do with it) and tries to make everything more “exotic” by including odd and pointless sets and shots like a dragon that I failed to notice or the strange, cross-shaped pool with a tree growing over it in a fairly ridiculous bit of pointless symbolism.
The fantasy elements are included in a poorly thought, forced checklist. The infamous “fairy lives don’t matter” scene is an attempt by Ayer to make it “funny”, cutting a detail conceived by Landis to convey that fairies aren’t just some comic relief pests - namely, the dead pigeon and fairies’ ability to shoot magic missiles. That one is replaced by Will Smith’s “funny” story about how fairies sling shit when they feel particularly malicious. Elves are handwaved as filthy rich and powerful, and their abilities, included in Landis’ draft, are limited to sick backflips and, in case of the antagonists, being able to survive things that would kill anyone else three times over. The centaur riot cop is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it last-minute add-on because it’s supposed to be a fantasy world, and it’s easier to put half a dude in place of a horse’s head than animate a lizardman or tinker with making an extra bigger or taller to make him an ogre or a dwarf (I’d hazard a guess that the weird, short guy waddling around in the wide ghetto shot was supposed to be a dwarf, in a cheap attempt at equating a person with dwarfism to a fantasy kind of dwarf).
Seriously. I can totally understand Max Landis disowning this movie. He had a concept, had an idea and comfortably played with the usual fantasy tropes like someone who knows them well, yet made the more grounded, real-world things cartoonish. Then came Ayer, made the fantasy tropes cartoonish, added more pointless police brutality to pretend that the movie is socially relevant, ditched the protagonists’ family issues (leaving some shreds in for Jakoby) and the only positive change he made was making Ward’s wife, a one-scene character, a nurse instead of a stripper. The cartoonish Latino gangbangers became even more cartoonish, and with the most important trait of the film’s MacGuffin being rewritten, their motivation disappeared in a flash of light like half of the gangbangers themselves. And now, with Landis out of the picture for unrelated gropey reasons, I can expect the sequel to be just as much of a confused, confusing trainwreck of cliches and tired, forced jokes.
Unless someone ties David Ayer really tightly and beats him over the head with a Shadowrun corebook, since the first promotional video for the sequel lays the inspiration out clearly.