Bright film review: does Will Smith’s Orc cop movie have the magic?

Will Smith re-teams with his Suicide Squad director for this gritty fantasy cop movie but don’t get excited

A gritty LA cop movie with genre elements should be the perfect fit for End Of Watch (yes, and Suicide Squad) director David Ayer, and Bright sounds like it should be a lot of fun on paper. In practice, it’s a plodding, uninspired twist on Alien Nation that lacks that film’s wit and invention and squanders every bit of its potential.

The starting point, that magic and fantasy creatures are part of everyday life, is promising. Elves are the wealthy elite, orcs are the downtrodden victims of racial profiling, and magic users (Brights) are terrorists with the potential to bring about the end of days. Smith is Daryl Ward, a veteran human officer reluctantly partnered with the eager Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first orc cop who is loathed by every bigoted man and woman in the precinct.

When the duo stumble across a magic wand at a gory crime scene, they become targets for crooks, crooked cops and the weapon’s terrifying owner: deadly dark elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace).

It’s easy to see how everyone got very excited about the concept but there’s almost nothing more to the film than that. It’s impossible to be immersed in this world when the character-building conversations feel templated, the exposition is so wooden it may as well be delivered direct to camera (the magic-controlling Feds stop to run a re-cap of the story by each other halfway through), and the energy is non-existent.

There are one or two decent action sequences and memorable images, but when you think about the adrenaline that Ayer has been able to conjure in the past this is bafflingly boring as Ward, Jakoby and runaway Bright Tikka (Lucy Fry, one of the film’s bright spots) barrel from shoot-out to plot point. Meanwhile, every opportunity to flesh out the broader fantasy element, whether that’s the ancient war and the Dark Lord, the mysterious cults, the Orc gang leader or Edgar Ramirez’s Elven magic cop, is ignored or fumbled to the point where you wonder who this film is actually for. A dragon glimpsed on the distant skyline seems like a particularly lazy afterthought.

The actors do their best but they’re hamstrung by Max Landis’ script, which wants Smith to be the straight man but can’t resist giving him one-liners. Edgerton works hard to make Jakoby endearing and sympathetic but the dialogue is woeful, while Rapace’s menacing presence is effective yet underused.

Bright wants to say something about racial prejudice and it wants to be a badass R-rated genre movie. Those good intentions are evident but the end result is a two hour-long, tedious, uninspired slog.