David Ayer, who wrote Training Day and wrote and directed End of Watch before making Suicide Squad, is returning to his roots with Bright, coming from Netflix on Dec. 22. In Ayer’s new film, written by Max Landis, a heroic Los Angeles Police Department officer is partnered against his will with a “diversity hire,” sent to police a war zone of a neighborhood where his race makes him an outsider, and from the looks of things, has to shoot his way home to his wife and kids when things go south. It’d be the kind of Heart of Darkness–style vision of a racially balkanized Los Angeles that people more or less stopped making after Rampart, except for one thing. Record scratch: The cop is played by Will Smith, a black man, and—record scratch again—his “diversity hire” partner is played by Loving’s Joel Edgerton, a white man, and—the kind of record scratch that permanently damages the stylus—Joel Edgerton isn’t white or black in this movie, he’s an orc, and—the record shatters into a million pieces as the speakers burst into flames—instead of Chinatown or Little Armenia, this Los Angeles has an “Elven Special District” with a military checkpoint entrance on Lower Grand.
Structurally, it looks like Landis and Ayer have attempted the same trick as the makers of Nazi video games, zombie video games, and Nazi zombie video games: If your only gameplay mechanism is shooting people, you have to find villains people don’t mind shooting. Similarly, if the only movie you want to make is the one where a cop has to blast his way across a violent neighborhood, you’d better fill that neighborhood with people who are alien enough that nobody thinks too much about how, in the real world, the LAPD is a little more trigger-happy in some parts of the city than others. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with making a movie about a human and an orc cop, but it’s a little disconcerting to send those fantasy cops to patrol real parts of town like Westlake (Rampart Division) and the south part of downtown (Newton Division, aka “Shootin’ Newton”), both visible in the trailer. It’s a sort of progress if filmmakers no longer feel comfortable staging Black Hawk Down–style shooting sprees through poorer parts of the city without adding elves and fairies, but the message that cops can’t be expected to play by the rules—“They don’t teach that at the academy,” Edgerton says with satisfaction after Smith shotguns the driver of a moving truck, sending him plowing into a row of parked cars—doesn’t become any more palatable just because Landis and Ayer have added magic wands and mystical swords. Edgerton is right, though: They don’t teach that kind of police tactic at the academy. They teach it at the movies.