All I’m saying is that Ali didn’t have a mounted policeman who was a literal centaur.
If you visit Will Smith’s RottenTomatoes page and arrange all 49 films in his illustrious list of credits from highest Tomato score to lowest, the top will have some familiar titles such as Men in Black, King Richard and Six Degrees of Separation, but his 2017 urban fantasy/buddy cop thriller Bright sits toward the bottom of the list. This is because critics are stupid and have no idea what makes a good Will Smith movie. If you go to Bright’s page on the popular social media movie platform Letterboxd, it holds an average rating of 2.3 out of 5 stars. This is because audiences are stupid and have no idea what makes a good Will Smith movie. But I do.
Bright is an action/fantasy film set in modern day Los Angeles in a universe where humans coexist with a number of fairytale races, including elves, orcs, centaurs, dragons and fairies. In the Bright world, orcs are a sloppy stand-in for real-life Black people with all the systematic oppression that follows, and Will Smith plays a police officer who is partnered with the LAPD’s first-ever orc cop, played by Joel Edgerton, as they unravel a criminal conspiracy involving evil elves, magic wands and Mexican street gangs.
I have watched Bright six times. Not as a bit, not to “hate-watch” it, as so much critically reviled media is enjoyed nowadays. No, I genuinely, truly, unironically love this piece of shit movie that was written by a total creep and has been dissected across the internet for its inherently misguided and blatantly racist approach to world building. Because it’s incredible.
In 2015, Bright screenwriter Max Landis penned a now-infamous tweet about a screenplay he was working on at the time, writing, “I’ve come to slowly realize (sic) that Bright, my new script, if made well, could potentially be my Star Wars, and it feels crazy.” Today, Landis has three paragraphs of his Wikipedia page dedicated to the many allegations made against him by numerous women who have accused him of committing horrific acts of abuse, up to and including rape. So, if you see someone post a screenshot of the above tweet as they lambast Landis for thinking that Bright would be a billion-dollar hit instead of a crime against humanity, just know that he may or may not have committed far, far worse crimes.
So why is Bright so great? The answer starts with the film’s biggest star and the elements of Will Smith movies that make them work. In every good schlocky Will Smith movie, he is cool, he is funny, he is a badass, he has crazy chemistry with his co-stars and he spends at least 30 percent of his scenes yelling. In Bright, Will Smith is a hot-shot police officer who shoots quips like they’re dirty cops, and the relationship between him and Edgerton grows from a distrustful partnership into a full-on friendship with countless comic and dramatic beats in between. And, of course, Will Smith spends half the movie yelling.
While unremarkable Will Smith movies of that era also utilized the above formula, such as Suicide Squad and Gemini Man, the element that they missed that Bright has in spades is a batshit insane premise executed with a confidence and complete lack of planning that suggests the entire script of the film was written in a single draft by Landis during a 48-hour coke binge with Bad Boys and Game of Thrones playing on loop in the background. Bright makes the ambitious attempt to combine two wildly disparate genres, gritty Los Angeles cop drama and dark fantasy epic, but instead of crafting a unique universe that elegantly integrates the many elements necessary to support such a crossover, Bright smashes the two genres together like a child making a G.I. Joe and a Barbie doll get it on.
My favorite example of this comes during a tense moment when both Smith and Edgerton are hostages of an orc gang leader and Smith attempts to intimidate the kingpin into releasing them, shouting (obviously), “Take your fat, Shrek-looking ass back to your vehicle and drive the fuck home to Fiona!” In this alternate fantasy world, where, thousands of years ago, orcs, elves and humans waged war on one another à la The Lord of the Rings or its many derivatives, society still evolved completely identically to the real world, even including the rise of DreamWorks and success of Shrek. Considering the tense racial climate that is integral to the plot and world of Bright, in this universe, Shrek would play like a racist caricature on the level of Birth of a Nation.
The absolutely insane approach to world building in Bright is dissected in detail in the above video by cultural critic Lindsay Ellis. Though I can’t refute even a single point she made in explaining how Bright is poorly written on a scale previously thought to be impossible by the nepo baby mouth-breathers of the screenwriting world, personally, I’ve never experienced such sublime enjoyment as watching this Frankensteined movie careen wildly between fairy tale mysticism and gory gang fights without a whiff of self-awareness or sensible storytelling.
Today, Bright is barely a footnote in Will Smith’s career, as everything that’s happened since 2017 washed away any memory of his involvement with the film. Though Netflix would spin the franchise off with a cursed anime adaptation in 2021, they ultimately scrapped their original plans for a sequel, which, to all us Bright die-hards, is an absolute slap in the face.