Netflix rolled out it's $90 million turd blossom in December and while the numbers provided by Netflix indicate it was a success - and let's be honest, if you pay for Netflix you probably watched it because why not? - and then it was immediately shat on by critics far and wide. And then screenwriter Max Landis with his sexual assault allegations happened and made it all the worse.
But the shitshow that is Landis aside, what on God's green Earth was happening in this movie? The basic story is that fantasy-beings are real; human and elves and orcs co-exist and the elves are the 1% while orcs are the most thinly-veiled metaphor for oppressed urban minorities in the history of clumsy racial metaphors. There's so much left on the table here it's a wonder you can get to the end credits without actually being sucked off the couch into one of the massive plotholes.
Orcs appear all over this movie as street thugs and low-lifes. Two-thousand years ago they aligned themselves with Voldemort 2.0 and he was bad and so now they're bad. Two thousand years ago. In the present, one orc has gone through Starfleet to become security chief on the Enterprise. Er, wait. No, he went through the academy to become a cop, the first one ever. This is the first orc in 2000 years who apparently ever succeeded in bettering himself and everyone hates him for it. Literally everyone, except Will Smith, who does hate him but not murder-hate him. Oh, and Will Smth's little girl who is somehow on fist-bumping terms with the orc.
There's an early scene in the movie when Jakoby, the orc, laments that no matter where he goes, someone is crapping on his people and a Hispanic cop says he gets it, his people are still blamed for the Alamo. So the Alamo happened in this world, and apparently there's racism towards Mexicans, is there regular racism on top of the orc racism?
The racism in the movie is meant to be a central, if not the central, point. Will Smith literally says "fairy lives don't matter" at one point before beating an ostensibly sentient being to death with a broom on his lawn. Cops are seen constantly beating orcs in the background of shots, there's nothing subtle here.
If orcs are a subjugated race, was slavery still a thing back in the day? Were Africans forced from their homes and taken across the ocean to America? There are obviously many black Americans, but we don't really know how history is supposed to be different as a result of their being literally two major sentient species existing alongside humans, plus evidence of at least two other fantasy species - fairies and dragons - that just serve as background imagery. None of this really gets answered.
The way orcs stand in for poor inner-city minorities and "urban" thugs is pretty heavy handed. Like Hulk-fist level heavy. Most are wearing jerseys and beanies and thick, gold chains. They hang out on street corners and in scuzzy clubs. They have bottomless pits in their living rooms. And one of them lifts up a truck.
This one scene, part of a background montage of "urban life" early in the film, completely destroys every orc interaction that occurs after it. A child orc has lost a ball, an adult orc is holding up an entire, giant Dodge Ram or some such, by himself, so the kid can retrieve it.
How would mankind, which is technologically at a realistic, modern level in this film, ever evolve to subjugate a species capable of lifting cars? How could they have gone to war with magic back in the day, which we can accept as how the war was won, but then co-existed so antagonistically afterwards? What kind of cockamamie hand-to-hand combat was keeping orcs under wraps in the past?
Will Smith gets his ass handed to him by orcs several times in the movie, but you have to assume that an orc punch is not unlike a cinderblock from a third-story window. He should have died several times as he was beaten.
Magic is central to the plot of this film, making the vagueness of it extremely frustrating. Only someone called a 'Bright' can use a magic wand. Brights are very rare, and the idea of a human Bright is so absurd that no one in this movie even thinks it's possible. It's about as common as an albino moose strolling through town. This is very important.
There's a federal taskforce of magic cops, like the FBI who investigate mystical crimes. Those guys can't use magic as far as the movie indicates, which seems like a bit of a bad idea. Magic is basically limitless - everyone wants the magic wand when it shows up and it's indicated it can literally make anything happen. Magic can make you rich, give you a bigger wang, and it can bring back the dead.
If magic can do all of these things, why isn't it doing anything? How is the world not in utter chaos or an abject paradise every single day? If an evil person has the wand, which they did, what the hell were they doing with it? If a good person had a wand, why wouldn't they clean up the dump that LA seems to be, or cure famine and disease, or make everyone hug everyone else, or a million things?
The cops make a big deal about Brights, and the magic squad rolls in when they hear one is around, but say one was around, what the hell are the cops going to do to someone who can apparently alter reality on a whim? The movie pretends magic is all-powerful but never shows it being all powerful at all, nor is how to counter it ever addressed. A squad of magic cops seem pretty useless if a magic wand could turn them to chili.
Only a Bright can use a magic wand and Brights are very rare. A non-Bright touching a wand is dead. They literally explode. Based on this, would you guess that the majority of the action in this movie is centered around numerous beings, only one of whom is actually a Bright, trying to get the wand?
At no point does anyone who wants the wand - the corrupt cops, the human gangbangers, or the orc gang - ever explain how they plan to use it. They all know it will kill you, and yet they keep gibbering on about what they're going to do with it. The cops seem to think they'll get rich, the gang leader wants to heal himself to get out of a wheelchair, but how?
Not only do you need to be able to hold the wand, which none of them can do, the elf who can use magic makes it pretty clear you need to know what to do with the wand once you have it. It doesn't read minds, it needs to be controlled. You need to use magic words to create the appropriate spell. So what's the magic word for "get rid of this colostomy bag?" There's nothing to suggest anyone knows.
Even when someone is in control of the magic, it's used properly twice. Two times on screen. It cures an inconvenient case of death once, and causes one. There's actually a point when the villain has possession of the wand and uses it on Will Smith to punt him across a room. That's all. He gets splashed out of a therapeutic magic hot tub. Like popping his head or turning him into the Fresh Toad of Bel Air were not better options.
Elves are the 1% in this world because...reasons. That's as deep as this goes. There are signs on walls that say "elves only," clearly inspired by "whites only" signs of the past. They have their own part of town full of giant skyscrapers and well-coiffed, lush green lawns and they all drive fancy cars and wear preposterously foolish clothing. But why? The obvious answer seems to be that elves are whiter than white people, a throwback to the Tolkien elves you recall from Lord of the Rings, only even snobbier now and, of course, with disposable income and sports cars.
Not a lot is made of elves in the movie to explain themselves. The villain is an elf, she has two kung-fu elf henchmen. One of the magic cops is an elf, and there's a sketchy elf-girl who helps the heroes and is played kind of like an empathetic junkie for most of the film. The only other elf you ever hear about is The Dark Lord, an evil being from 2000 years ago who tried to destroy the world or whatever? It's unclear, except that he was evil and orcs sided with him. This is the root of the hatred of orcs. Somehow this is not the root of a hatred of elves. Is that all it takes to become rich in this world? Not do something bad 2000 years ago?
Will Smith instructs his orc partner to not even drive through Elf Town, lamenting that there's nothing there except rich ass elves running the world and shopping.
So how did elves become so elite they have their own part of town literally called Elf Town? The parallel to White Privilege is punching you in the face, but the only issue with that is what about white humans? Are there two privileged classes here? There's no White Town, that seems too racist for even this movie, but it's also just as fair as Elf Town in the context of the story, so why not?
So Nick Jakoby is an orc with no clan. Orcs live in clans, see. They're loyal to clans above all else. But Nick has no clan and was raised alongside humans and he's always wanted to be a cop, so he becomes one. Orcs look down on him as his lack of tusks, the teeth he files down, indicate he's unblooded, as they say. He has no clan. Humans look down on him first because he's an orc and then later because he let a suspect get away that had shot Will Smith, and they think it's an indication of the orc's disloyalty. Literally no one wants Jakoby to be a cop. Not Will Smith, not the other cops, not the sergeant, not even Internal Affairs. So how the hell did he even become a cop?
Everyone actively tries to sabotage Jakoby in the movie - if not trying to kill him outright, they try to set him up to be fired. Who was it who wanted him on the force in the first place? In no place or time in the movie are orcs ever shown to be respected by any portion of this society, when they get beaten in the streets, no one is horrified or tries to intervene, it's played as perfectly normal, so why is he a diversity hire? Who's being appeased by this Tolkien-brand affirmative action?
Obviously Jakoby is a good guy and Will Smith comes to learn this over the course of the film and in the end we all realize that hating orcs just for being orcs is wrong, and the cops were bad for judging him because of what he is and not who he is, but that's so clumsy it's painful to even read, isn't it? If no one wanted him around, if the world hates orcs and cops are constantly beating orcs, then probably there wouldn't be an orc cop, would there?
World building is a pretty difficult exercise, everyone probably gets that. But Bright doesn't seem to have taken any strides whatsoever to build a world so much as squat in ours. Orcs, elves, fairies, dragons and humans are all existing together, and seemingly always have. And yet Will Smith actually makes a Shrek joke at one point in this movie. Just imagine that. Imagine a world with real-life orcs and magic that can explode you and giant, winged dragons in the sky, and yet for some reason Mike Myers still grew up to voice an animated ogre in a movie.
Nothing is different about the world these beings live in. Magic has had no discernible effect, all these species have had no discernible effect. The culture, in all places, is distinctly human. The orcs are in street gangs, the elves are elitist shopaholics. There are strip clubs and orc death metal. This is supposed to be the culmination of the history of three separate, sentient species existing together throughout time. But what it is is just a lack of imagination.
The LA skyline in the movie features two weird skyscrapers, literally the only nod to something being different about this world at all, and it's kind of amazing. Two buildings with quirky architecture is the cultural and historical significance that an entirely different species gave unto the world. Orcs produced, from what we can see, graffiti.
If the movie presents them as literally having no effect on the history of the world, it means they have no real effect on the present or the future anyway, so who cares? The ominous threat of the evil elf dude returning is a backdrop to the villain's motivations, and a guy earlysays if he returns, they'll beat him with magic just like they did before. Yeah, probably. Seems legit. So who cares about anything that happens here, then?