Netflix turned David Ayer loose on his elves-and-orcs fantasy cop drama Bright, a movie that “is taking itself seriously,” leans hard into issues of race, and will put plenty of gnarly, hard R-rated violent action on our home screens this December.
The streaming giant threw its first ever Hall H panel Thursday at Comic-Con, debuting a trailer and showing an extended action scene from the director of Training Day and Suicide Squad. It’s Netflix’s most ambitious original movie since its first, Beast of No Nation, in 2015.
Bright takes place in modern Los Angeles, but one that looks more like J.R.R. Tolkien’s worlds than the one we know: Orcs, elves, fairies and other mythical creatures live among humans, and you better believe there are tensions between them.
“This isn’t some bullshit standard issue studio PG-13 movie. I was able to do some real shit here”
“I get to explore some really interesting social issues … what happens if we take [this world] seriously?” said Ayer, who rewrote the wholly original Max Landis script. “This isn’t like, some bullshit standard issue studio PG-13 movie. I was able to do some real shit here. I was able to do my thing. This is a new kind of thing we’re doing.” (Ayer has directed 10 films, only one of them rated PG-13. That would be Suicide Squad.)
Ayer, a jumble of contradictions — he’s a hardened, intense tough guy with a mile-wide compassionate streak and boundless enthusiasm — shared the stage with stars Will Smith, Noomi Rapace, Joel Edgerton, Edgar Ramirez, and one newcomer, the Margot Robbie doppelgänger Lucy Fry, an Australian TV actress making her debut in a major feature. (Hard to believe, I know, but she’s playing an elf).
“It was such a beautiful thing to get back with Dave,” said Smith, whose Suicide Squad character practically redeemed the movie. “[Bright] was a bizarre world. It was this crazy mashup of the grit and that hard, rated-R grind of Training Day … but then smashed with Lord of the Rings.”
Ayer and Smith both spoke about the race-relations allegory of Bright, whose different species are not at all in harmony. In fact, much is made of an Orc (Edgerton) becoming a police officer, who’s called a “diversity hire” and is just doing his best to be liked.
“There are social issues,” Ayer said. “There is stratification. It is a god way to hear about these issues today without beating people over the head with it. Because a lot of people, they don’t want to hear it.”
Orcs are the “workers” of Bright, saddled mostly with blue-collar and manual-labor jobs. Elves are at the top of the totem pole, with humans falling in between.
“[Orcs] don’t really get any respect, and the cops are constantly kicking their ass,” Ayer said — a notion that Smith had some fun with.
“You never get to be racist when you’re black!” Smith said. “You’re like look man, I don’t want no Orcs in my car!”
Ayer stressed over and over how working with Netflix was different from the big studios. Bright reportedly had a budget of $90 million, which Netflix just handed over and got out of the way, he said.
“I don’t think people realize the situation that filmmakers face these days … I think Netflix is gonna pull a lot more talent because they are so supportive, and supportive of the process. It feels like 20 years ago with them.”
For his part, Smith — “the biggest movie star in the world” — didn’t mind taking a paycheck from a streaming service.
“It’s really interesting to be at the forefront of whatever this new way to consume entertainment is gonna be. … I am extremely excited to see where this thing goes. I have a 16-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 25-year-old at home … the films they go see at the theater on the weekend and what they watch at home don’t necessarily cross.”
The Smiths and everyone else will have the chance to catch Bright when it comes out on Netflix on December 22.