YouTube critic Lindsay Ellis, whose work on Twilight and Stranger Things we’ve previously featured, recently posted a great analysis of the world building in Netflix’s Bright, and why it really doesn’t work. Ellis says she started fixating on the world building in the film after one character said, “Mexicans still get shit for the Alamo.” She couldn’t stop thinking about the contradictions and world-building holes in a line like that, and so here we have this video.
“In the broadest of strokes, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the premise or the story itself,” Ellis says. “A fantasy setting that resembles our modern universe, with the central characters as two cops of different fantasy races that don’t like each other but have to learn to work together … You could just as easily imagine the two cops as Legolas and Gimli, and that could make for a fun, unique romp.”
However, Ellis argues that poor setup and payoff in the plotting and character arcs, as well as a “lazy and careless” approach to world-building and the depiction of bigotry, ultimately doom the film. Bright, she points out, combines the allegory of its fantasy races with real-world coding that is “way too on-the-nose to be ignorant [unintentional].”
And yet, after setting up this very clear allegory by using clumsy and obvious real-world signifiers, Bright doesn’t do anything with its big metaphor. “The plot itself—keep the magic wand away from Leilah—has fuck-all to do with the oppression of orcs, or Mexicans, or whoever,” Ellis argues. “The entire first act sets up this world of oppression, but once the wand comes along, the theme of ‘racism is bad’ is just window-dressing.”
In addition, Ellis points out that Bright doesn’t think through its premise. “[Bright] never thinks through the implications of building an alternate history … The 2,000 years of backstory all of the characters make such a huge deal about would have led to a massively different universe than just ‘L.A. with Orc homies.’ And when people talk about the squandered potential of Bright, to me this is the worst part. There’s no imagination put into the history of the world past the central conceit of a modern setting with Orcs and Elves in it … Instead of an organic world where the history is woven in, it’s just our world with fantasy elements slapped on top, like magnets on a fridge.”
Lastly, she argues that Bright uses a hackneyed and unrealistic depiction of the causes and manifestations of bigotry. “Reducing bigotry to single, justifiable, and even understandable conflicts makes racism feel that much more reasonable,” she says, “logical even. Mexicans get shit because of the Alamo. Orcs get shit because of the Dark Lord. Racism is bad, but you know, people have legit reasons for being racist.” That, of course, isn’t what racism looks like in the real world.
“The problem [with Bright],” Ellis summarizes, “isn’t just that this world is too close to our own, so inevitably you can’t help but impose our world-logic onto it. It isn’t just that being on the nose with your race allegory might read as tone-deaf. And it isn’t just that ‘fairy lives don’t matter.’ Really, it’s just that it’s incurious and lazy, but it doesn’t want to be.”
(Featured image: Netflix)
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