Is it any good?
But I think I liked it anyway.
David Ayer returns to a genre that has treated him well in the past: police procedural. Except this time there are Orcs on the LAPD. This is Tolkien’s Training Day. It doesn’t quite work. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.
We start by introducing the main characters: Ward, the human patrolman with a family (played by Will Smith) and Jakoby, the neophyte Orc on the force (played by Joel Edgerton). They respond to a call and find an elven “bright” with a wand. A bright is an adept magic user and in this universe a wand is “a nuke that grants wishes.” After some twists and betrayals, the three find themselves on the run from federal agents who specialize in magic, fellow police, human and orc gangs, and other elven magic users.
The movie is at its best when Ayer is in his element following the LAPD around. It builds the universe fairly competently and it’s a really interesting place. It seems to have developed like the real world, except that generations ago there was basically the Lord of the Rings with a fellowship fighting against the “Dark Lord.” So there are elves and orcs and faeries and magic. But there’s also gangs and ghettos and racial disharmony. While there are hints that black people in that world are in a similar place to black people in ours, the main racial strife comes between the humans and the Orcs. Orcs allied with the dark lord and have been stigmatized since. So it’s a big deal that Jakoby has joined the “good guys” on the police. Most people distrust him and Ward’s family is afraid that Ward will be killed in the line of duty by simply partnering with him. There is some unexpected complexity in how this world is drawn and Ayer does well to build all the conflicts between the races. He sets up what I think is a very interesting world. Ayer’s End of Watch showed that he can do well with the police material and that part is good here too.
But then it turns into a run of the mill action movie. The leads just go around trying to protect this girl and this wand and it loses much of its complexity and interest. It starts to resemble the worst parts of Suicide Squad in its ardent struggle against sense and any semblance of us caring about what goes on. I was invested in the conflict between the Orcs and the police force. I could not care less about the conflict between the evil elves and the heroes.
In order to be entertained by this movie you have to try REALLY hard to suspend your disbelief. Ayer does pretty well in the beginning making things feel grounded and urging you to just say “ok.” But the movie fights you towards the end and just keeps loading up on ridiculous scenarios that threaten to rip you completely out of it. While I had those moments, for the most part I enjoyed what was presented even if it was completely dumb or nuts. But your mileage may vary.
It doesn’t wholly succeed, but it isn’t a complete failure either. I think that there was something good that is hiding in here, but it REALLY isn’t everyone’s bag. But it’s entertaining if you just want something action-y on.