Critics are having a ball bashing Bright, the Will Smith-helmed fantasy-meets-cop movie that had been hailed, before its release, as Netflix’s first blockbuster. “There’s boring, there’s bad, and then there’s Bright, a movie so profoundly awful that Republicans will probably try to pass it into law over Christmas break,” wrote Indiewire’s David Erlich, in a review that went on to be even more scathing, if that’s possible. Erlich griped about director David Ayers’ refusal to fill in the movie’s mythological conceit, and explore how the nine different races of sentient species live together in Los Angeles, and complained about the low production quality.
All of Erlich’s sentiments are spot-on, but he didn’t touch on what disappointed me most about Bright. The movie is a disaster when it comes to its treatment of its principle women characters, Tikka (Lucy Fry) and Leilah (Noomi Rapace).
Tikka and Leilah are both Brights, incredibly powerful beings capable of harnessing a magic wand without immediately blowing up, which is what happens to non-Brights when they touch wands. Leilah is part of an evil group of elves called the Inferni, whose goal is to bring back the Dark Lord, an elf who had ruled the world a thousand years prior. Tikka, also an elf, had also been part of the group. But for some unexplained reason, Tikka defected from the Inferni, and took the wand necessary for the Dark Lord's resurrection along with her.
Tikka and Leilah are the reasons why the movie’s plot exists. LAPD cops Jakoby (Joel Edgerton) and Daryl Ward (Will Smith) spend the entirety of Bright either carrying a limp Tikka, or being chased by a guns-blazing Leilah. But in terms of establishing motivation, history, background, or anything that would distinguish Tikka and Leilah from archetype of Helpless Waif and Evil Villainess — none of that exists in Bright.
The elves' two-dimensionality is a total shame, because it was completely unnecessary. I spoke to Fry and Rapace about their characters, and they were more than happy to provide me with fascinating justifications for their characters’ actions. I learned, for example, why Leilah was so intent on bringing the the Dark Lord back.
“When the Dark Lord was in charge, what he created was something beautiful and divine. Obviously, if [Leilah] looks around herself now, the world around her is not functioning and is chaos, and people are shooting at her. It’s carnage and it’s ugly, and she’s obsessed with beauty. She’s a passionate soul who wants to recreate a world order that existed way back,” Rapace said of Leilah.
In the movie, Leilah never gets a chance to express her obsession with beauty, or the strongly held philosophical beliefs that motivated her violence. Instead, Leilah's dialogue is reduced to platitudes: “I am a warrior, a priestess, a lover. I am whatever I need to be.” She’s not the individual or specific villain that Rapace had prepared for – she’s a “fill in the blank” villain, lacking in the specificity that distinguishes archetype from individual.
During my interview, I also learned why Lucy Fry’s character, Tikka, was compelled to leave the Inferni, another topic barely broached upon in the movie. In Fry’s mind, Tikka was embarking on a profound quest to learn goodness for the first time.
“I studied from this book The Women Who Run With Wolves, [a tale called] ‘The Handless Maiden,' about a woman who has to go [on] a journey deep in the underworld. It’s about finding your inner power and the ability to stand for what you want to stand for in the world, not what you’ve been taught. I used that to create Tikka’s psychological journey. She’s really seeing what’s happening in the world, and seeing things as they are,” Fry said, also adding that she threw a dash of Joan of Arc into her character.
Thanks to personal one-on-one study sessions with Rapace and Fry, I finally understood their characters’ motivations. If their characters' dialogue hadn’t been limited to arguments in Elvin, or quivering sentences in English, perhaps this article would not have been necessary. Rapace and Fry's characters would have spoken for themselves. As it stands, Tikka says her first word in English over halfway through the movie, and Leilah barely talks. Bright doesn't even give its women a platform for dialogue, let alone principles of character and motivation.
Ultimately, Bright did not care about its women characters — though clearly, Rapace and Fry did. It’s a shame the movie's script wasn’t strong enough to communicate all the work they had done to fill out their characters’ backgrounds. At this point, though, maybe I’m the one who should stop being surprised when an action movie relegates women to being objects that move the plot forward.
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