So, I watched Netflix’s Bright today, and let me say that I was prepared for it to be bad. I saw that some advanced review sites had already taken their jabs at it, and the consensus seemed to be that it was crap. Heck, here’s a slew of sites saying just that. Ok, so it’s gonna be rough, but I had to watch it. Why? Because Bright represents one of the few examples of fiction in a fantasy setting like code::2050.
Ok, so it’s going to suck, and apparently pretty hard. Here we go…
…And it was actually kind of awesome. Oh don’t get me wrong, the movie has some serious flaws, but they do not in any way overpower the great things about this movie. I’m going to start with the bad and work into the good here. However, for those who don’t have patience for this list, know this: the movie is absolutely worth the 2 hours of your life it takes to watch it.
1. The characters are lazy and poorly written.
This is, by far, the worst sin of the film, and it’s a doozie. The characters presented all fill some of the most clichéd roles imaginable. We’ve got the quippy about-to-retire cop just trying to get through the day. We’ve got the straight-laced cop who just ignores the assholes around him so that he can just go home and pay the bills. We’ve got the guy who just wants to do his job, but the higher-ups make life difficult by assigning him some onerous duty.
And that’s all Will Smith’s character.
Add to that the Orc “diversity hire” who is well-intentioned, but has difficulty with human concepts like sarcasm and sharing (IE Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy). Then we’ve got the corrupt cops who want to take the first chance they get to make a big score. The aloof feds who are the best at the job, but don’t let petty shit like Miranda rights get in their way. The cop family (usually a healthcare worker, because women have to be nurturing somehow in these things) that is just upset because they’re afraid their dad/husband is going to die. The ganglord who owns several city blocks and has an endless supply of goons and and endless-er supply of bullets (this one’s in a wheelchair, though, and speaking as an expert on the matter, I think the actor may actually be disabled). The Orc gang/clan leader whose religious affiliation trumps all personal strife and grudge.
Okay, that last one is a little out there.
However, believe me when I say that this movie has some of the laziest character writing I’ve ever seen. I’d be shocked to death if the character creation session for this movie wasn’t an email chain titled, “We have Netflix money, so what’s your favorite character in movies?” followed by pictures of Drax, Danny Glover, that fed from Twin Peaks, and those gangers from Training Day.
2. The dialogue is so-so at best, and fucking terrible at worst.
Here we have the inevitable side effect of the problem in the first point. Bad characters have bad dialogue, it’s as simple as that. I would hope that the writers would be able to cobble something together as Netflix has a history of phenomenal dialogue writing, but they instead took the characters they were given and proceeded to write their lines like they were working on their favorite slashfic.
The dynamic between Ward and Jakoby is strained to the point of awkward because of this. Smith’s jokes and retorts fall flat, and Jakoby’s innocence feels forced and disingenuous. Listening to them go back and forth is more akin to two people making rough small talk right before interviewing for the same job than a couple of beat cops trying to get through a day of work. Jakoby is a fucking cop, which means he went through (successfully, mind you) at least a year of police academy training, a several-stage job interview, and some on-the-job training to get where he is. Yet, every time he opens his mouth, he sounds like some chump getting way too into a ride-along. Don’t worry though, they gave him a gun. A couple of them, in fact.
The dialogue issue doesn’t start and stop at these two, though. All of the lines in this movie have an odd lean to them, almost like we’re supposed to think, “maybe Shakespeare wrote this shit.” Well, he didn’t. That bard is spinning in his grave like a top from me having even written that sentence. Oh, but don’t worry, because the lines that aren’t written like that are comprised of about 75 to 90% f-bombs. You know, because they talk like they’re on the fuckin’ streets, man.
If you ever wonder why it seems like you’ve just run out of fucks to give, it’s because Bright took them all.
3. The story is simple, and that’s a good thing.
One of my favorite D&D YouTubers likes to say that there’s only one plot: “Someone wants something badly, and is having difficulty getting it.” This is the entirety of the plot of this movie, and thank goodness for that.
There are only so many novel and clever things that a movie can do before it starts getting too washed out by its cleverness. In many cases, a movie can either introduce us to a new setting, or lead us on a twisty plot of intrigue and uncertainty. And there are plenty of movies to illustrate both. Star Wars (A New Hope) is a great example of the former as it introduces this grand amazing setting, but the story is just The Hero’s Journey. The Game is an incredibly twisty plot that leaves the audience guessing at every turn, but its setting is just modern day earth. Movies that try to do both, such as Jupiter Ascending, often fall flat. This shouldn’t be a surprise as we’ve only got a couple hours of screen time to work with.
Bright does a great job in this category. It has a lot of setting to introduce (more on that next), so it keeps the plot very straightforward: there’s a magic wand that a bad guy wants, and the good guys have to keep it away from her. That’s it. That’s the whole plot. Beautiful in its simplicity, and executed well in a generic three-act structure. It’s story writing at its most elegant.
4. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.
Do you know why the original Blade Runner was such a hit? Because it had a world we had never seen before, and then just dumped us into a small part of it. No primer, no seminar, just straight minute one immersion.
Now, do you know why the Ultimate Cut of that movie is better than the theatrical release? Because they removed Harrison Ford’s narration. That one move took the world in Blade Runner from really good to stunning. Why? Because we don’t need Ford to tell us about the world, it’s right there. We can see it, we can see what these characters live in, and we have the capacity to imagine what its like. So many times as writers we’re told “don’t tell, show.”
Bright fucking nailed it. It didn’t tell us shit, and it was perfect. The opening credits are of some scenes around L.A. with graffiti and road signs and whatnot, and that’s all we needed. There are Elves, there are Orcs, there are faeries that need to be removed by exterminators sometimes, the Elven district is somehow restricted, a lot of the graffiti deals with Orcs and their problems, and on and on. Just a few minutes of credit montage and we’re in, living in this world.
And it doesn’t stop there. The subtle references to other parts of this larger world are handled with a grace and dignity that’s rarely seen these days. There are two centaur cops that have a total of maybe 30 seconds of screen time. What? Centaur cops? Holy shit, what is their story? An Orc mentions hanging out with Dwarves in Miami. There’s a 2000 year old history involving some sort of Dark Lord, but that’s all we know. Wow, that might be a cool thing to see some day, but it’s even cooler that we don’t see the Dark Lord ever. Instead, we see the world that exists because of that event.
Oh, also, one of the wide shots shows a dragon flying over L.A. like it’s no big deal. Neat.
This is how one builds a world. Star Wars did it (“I fought alongside your father in the Clone Wars.”), Blade Runner did it (“I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.”), and Bright does it. Worldbuilding executed with such precision that it’s never actually mentioned. Brilliant.
5. You, too, can live in that world. Right now.
The beauty of Dungeons and Dragons is that you can be any character you want, living in any world you want, and telling any story you want. Unfortunately, the regular version of the game limits these to medieval fantasy settings with a decidedly Eurocentric angle. Do you want to, instead, play in the awesome world of Bright? Then we’ve got you covered.
Come check out the code::2050 SRD. It’s free, and it adds all of the rules you need to turn 5e’s regular rules into something just like Bright. We’ve got Orcs, Elves, magic, and dragons right alongside guns, cars, explosions, and Will Smith. Well, alright, we’re still trying to nail down Mr. Smith as our spokesman, but everything else is in there.
This movie was, all told, a good time and definitely worth yours. Check it out.
Oh, and if Netflix is reading this, keep the world, but get some new dialogue writers. And now that we know the world, get more ambitious with the plot next time. If you want some help, we’d be happy to lend you some of our writers.