I saw it over the winter break. It was a fairly standard Will Smith vehicle and a workmanlike “buddy cop” movie–the science fiction equivalent was Alien Nation, many years ago. Full disclosure: this was another movie that I very much enjoyed. The film and the television show both entertained me enough that there is an homage to Alien Nation in Sword of the Stars, in fact–Alien Nation is the reason that Hivers love cheese.
Bright follows the formula for Buddy Cop stories note by note almost perfectly. Whether you love or hate this movie SHOULD depend almost entirely on whether you find the formula for Buddy Cop movies to be tolerable at all.
If you normally would consider a movie like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Company, The Man, Miami Vice, Die Hard etc. to be an honest day’s work or forgettable-but-fun popcorn fare, and you’re throwing a shit fit about Bright being somehow terribly written or badly acted?
Something was gone wrong with your grey matter.
Maybe everyone should take this film as an invitation to look at the formula for the Buddy Cop genre a LITTLE more closely. All Buddy Cop movies take a very problematic view of race, and present a very unrealistic vision of how the world works. But the fantasy world of Buddy Cop movies is a popular fantasy, a fairy tale that appeals primarily to lower and middle class white people–and we are apparently the majority population in North America.
A lot of Bright‘s most problematic elements are inherited from its form. The Disney film Zootopia has a lot of the same problems in its depiction of racial violence and conflict–not just because it’s a Buddy Cop movie with “mismatching investigators” who learn to care about each other and work together, but particularly in the way it seems to assign the blame for discrimination on the choices or “biological nature” of the victims. Predators in Zootopia are victims of discrimination because they were actually PREDATORS, biologically speaking. Orcs are victims of discrimination in Los Angeles because “they chose to serve the dark lord” in the past, etc.. This kind of racism built into the foundations of the world should never get a pass, or be stated without opposition.
The other problem some people will have with Bright is that it’s a Shadowrun movie, although sadly it does not credit the developers of Shadowrun or any of the other works in its lineage. And Shadowrun is to Tolkein and Dungeons and Dragons what the Sex Pistols are to Hall and Oates, or the Ramones are to the Osmond family.
Shadowrun has always been more hip to its own bullshit than other versions of modern fantasy. Shadowrun makes the subtext of more “genteel” racism and classism in traditional fantasy games and novels into a visible, contested reality. This game is the stained wife-beater tank top underneath Tolkein’s crisp white linen shirt.
A Shadowrun setting is a gritty urban fantasy milieu full of open hate, stereotyping, and resistance. Fear and loathing in in Beverly Hills. A night of blood and hell-fire in Compton. A film where the orcs are an oppressed minority and the rich and powerful elves are framed as creepy at best, terrifying and evil at worst–just like real aristocrats.
Personally, I like it. It appeals to me for the same reason that punk rock once did: it gives voice to my working class white rage, which is complex and even sometimes melancholy. It is Noir in its framing of upper class whites as the enemy, and that feels true to me and always has.
I don’t expect everyone else to magically change their minds, but this is why I think that you’re all wrong, and the unwashed masses and I are right. I look forward to more “supernatural police dramas” and more wet eldritch fire dropping from wands which are described as “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes”.
The future looks Bright to me. you can catch it on Netflix.