Hats off for a rare original concept in the cop genre, as well as a bold pairing of director and (sometimes problematic) material. It was a good idea to put a story about folkloric creatures and cops in the hands of David Ayer, who's in his element on the mean streets of L.A. After establishing his reputation by writing Training Day and writing and directing the Christian Bale character study Harsh Times, Ayer made the under-recognized End of Watch, in which two patrolmen find themselves in way over their heads, chased all night by unstoppable cartel forces. Bright is at its best when it's either dealing with the recognizable humor of orc-human cultural differences or when it's immersing viewers in the cops' desperate quest-on-the-run, à la End of Watch. Bright never achieves the nail-biting tension of that film, but it almost feels like a zombie movie at times, with the "ordinary" police officers fighting for their lives against mobs at seemingly every turn. Screenwriter Max Landis previously penned an inventive take on both the superhero-origin and found-footage genres with Chronicle; here, he effectively mixes things up again, with clear social commentary written all over the movie's orcish faces (outstanding makeup effects by Christopher Nelson's team, occasionally aided by VFX). In Bright, orcs are the stand-in for real-life oppressed minorities facing vicious discrimination. (The film's parallels to reality get as bold as one character getting upset about conflicts stemming from things that happened "2,000 years ago.")
Smith delivers one of his better recent performances here; he's not trying to do too much, but he's not simply coasting on his movie-star charisma, either. His take on Ward isn't a detailed, complex portrait, as some of the troubled cops in Ayers' previous movies have been, but it's fine for this often-comedic actioner. And Edgerton adds to his long list of sympathetic, feeling performances (Loving and Warrior, for instance). Despite his heavy monster makeup, he makes Nick the film's most relatable figure: earnest, loyal, and brave. Although she isn't given much room to develop her character, it's a pleasure to see the always impressive Rapace; here, she's nearly unrecognizable as a villainous elf. But problems arise when the Bright universe doesn't seem to follow its own rules. Characters waltz through a nightclub full of firing automatic weapons, killing everyone in sight (including a SWAT team) in one of the film's better set pieces. But these same superfolks get thwarted with relative ease when the plot necessitates it. Viewers will be wondering aloud why the heroes don't use every option available to them (to say more would be telling). The film's big twist seems obvious from the start, and -- alas -- the social commentary more or less gets dropped as the action picks up. The climax is ineffective in precisely the same way Ayers' disastrous Suicide Squad faced-planted in its own finale: convoluted, predictable, low emotional impact. Still, Bright is a bloody (gory) good time and different from the pack (though there are clear parallels to 1988's Alien Nation), which has to be worth something when you're deciding whether to spend 117 minutes on it.