Updated: Mar 30
Once I witnessed low-key “Dark Lord” references - graffiti art in the opening credits was the first case of foreshadowing - I sensed that Bright, an interspecies sign of the times thriller, was loosely connected to some epic stories. Admittedly, not being a guru on J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit, (or any other fantasy literature), it would be remiss to not mention screenwriter Max Landis’ attempt to play off these age-old tales. Scott Ward (Will Smith), Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), and Tikka (Lucy Fry), are your heroes in a world where renegade Elves, gangster Orcs, and disgruntled Humans rule the streets. Elves, (the ones who helped entrap the Dark Lord 2,000 years prior), represent the 1% (wealthy class), signifying their rule over the entire world. Another noteworthy observation that is sure to catch most viewers eyes are the efforts to create something relative to the plights that our society today faces.
The Dark Lord references immediately punched a hole through my attention span, letting loose past admiration for Prince Legolas: Sindarin Elf of the Woodland Realm, one of the nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring, and a main character in Tolkien’s epic story, The Lord of the Rings. The Woodland Realm and the way Elves carried themselves always seemed as if they were better than all of the other races. In Bright, that part of the narrative remains the same, alluding to the fact that once the Dark Lord was out of the picture, magic continued to be the dividing factor amongst races. Since more Elves have the potential to be a “bright,” (the only individuals who can handle a magic wand), life became easier if you were an Elf. And if you were an Elf of stature and clout, you had very little “first world problems.” The Orcs, who sided with the Dark Lord in The Lord of the Rings, appeared to be on the bottom of the racial totem-pole, potentially from past transgressions and for fighting on the wrong (losing) side of the ancient war. Jumping back to the 21st Century, in Bright the Orcs resemble street thugs in appearance, wearing baggy clothing, expensive jewelry and carrying high-level weaponry. Their skins, pig-like with ink all over, and their fangs, signify whether or not they are blooded, (meaning they have killed someone), so they visibly stand out, which is another “strike against them.” Other races hate the Orc’s presence because of their past, as well as their distinct features. And the Orcs, in their own way, embrace this hate. You could easily make the case that, the writer and director of Bright are attempting to make the Orcs appear as African Americans. But as the movie plays out, you can hear the Orc’s music and see other small characteristics that are not usually attributed to the “street” culture of the former, (like mosh pitting). Their vernacular and mannerisms are straight up street, which dubs them as the gangster representatives of the poor and marginalized. Regardless of skin complexion and race, they are still symbolized as the dregs of society.
Lastly we have the humans, the main buffer between the Elves and the Orcs. In this reality, humans are more likely to be a “bright” than an Orc is, but certainly less likely than an Elf. So, this rightly sticks them in the middle, both figuratively and narratively. The real hook of the movie is discovering how these cultures interact on different levels and in different scenarios. There are not many racial undertones between the humans of the story, but the lack of mentioning this causes the statistics and stereotypes of our reality to remain the same. This leads to an interesting dynamic in watching how minorities and law enforcement interact with these otherworldly races, with heavy-handed metaphors galore. The movie revolves around “The Prophecy,” a too familiar legend passed through time that tells of an Un-blooded Orc and a Human who will help save society from the resurrection of the Dark Lord, by a renegade destructive order of Elves called the Infirni. Here’s where references to The Hobbit and our own reality end, and the story of Bright is allowed to fully come into its own! A magic wand of limitless power is discovered, Officer Jakoby gets a nice history lesson, Tikka has a testament of character and our own Officer Ward may just be our lucky one in a million; without giving anything away, I can tell you it is very interesting and quite entertaining how the new story unfolds.
Bright takes a good cut at addressing some social commentary which is brought home by the director and actors who helped to bring these concepts of constraint to life. Playing on the theory that we are all created equal, while scratching the surface on Law Enforcement in America and how it affects different communities, Bright’s greatest triumph is its commentary on cultural diversity - or the lack there of - and why public relations may seem to do more appropriation than appreciation. Many references were made to our social climate in the 21st century – from not being able to fit in or get in (lack of access), to our Law Enforcement’s silence on police brutality and corruption (blue shield code of silence), to expanding the theory that all races are created equal but that Elves are more privileged (social and racial disparities) – with their own twist. These notions are backed up by their fictional statistics, such as Elves and Humans with bright capabilities and those without. The way members of each group react towards the magic wand, (whether they be exposed corrupt cops, regretful and vengeful gang leaders, revolting elves seeking the Apocalypse or even a few good people just trying to do what’s right), paints a picture of cultural diversity that begs to be appreciated.
Although these good guys are often conflicted, (per the usual good guy narrative), each character has an individual battle within, mirrored by what people of similar cultural standings in the real world are actually going through. Officers Ward and Jakoby, and the good Elf, Tikka, demonstrate similar struggles, and we are able to see them grow through their perspectives of what they believe and what they learn. These social constraints are reminiscent of some of the very best in the original Star Trek in the late 60’s. It was engaging in the same ways as Training Day and The Lord of the Rings were in the early 2000’s. The moral lessons of learning to trust someone who doesn’t trust you, and having faith in the world and yourself, beckons the audience to think of what a leap of faith may mean specifically to each of them. How would you feel walking up a staircase in the dark just to reach an unknown light? However straightforward that question may seem at first glance, I assure you, it is not. This statement, and how you choose to answer it, is the very foundation of the idea of faith. Someone not only has to take the first steps, they also have to choose to walk in the first place. Our three protagonists perform in an exemplary job, demonstrating what it takes to be a leader, which gives focus to the difficulty of making a decision, and dealing with the consequences and repercussions without knowing the full extent of the reward. Just doing what’s right, all the time.
I am very excited about Bright. What I really hope to see, is this world become larger, and for me to have the opportunity to explore it more vividly. A sequel, a prequel, maybe some spin-off series filling the blanks. As long as the content, whichever form it may take, tackles the same heavy issues of our society with that cool fantasy spin, which makes it bearable enough to believe it’s all make believe.
Ali T. Muhammad
Watching movies is one of the few moments that he's able to get out of his own head and into someone else's. He believes that there is a serious educational proponent used in making and watching films. As an avid reader, he's learned to appreciate what one can get from reading books and watching movies. Westerns, suspense thrillers and sci-fi are his favorite genres, but Legends of the Fall is his favorite movie of all time, followed by Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Interview with the Vampire and Malcolm X.