Despite the critical drubbing it received, Bright is getting a sequel.
The movie, which represents Netflix’s first big blockbuster, was reportedly streamed over 11 million times within the first three days of its release according to Nielsen, making it the biggest Netflix original film to date.
So, yes, Bright lives—but with screenwriter Max Landis booted from the helm. Landis, who previously referred to Bright as his Star Wars in a heavily mocked tweet, was recently accused of sexual harassment and assault, with multiple women coming forward. Not a particularly auspicious start, but there’s nothing about the way Bright has burrowed into the collective cultural consciousness that doesn’t provoke head-scratching. (Landis did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.)
To recap, Bright stars Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as cops, features utterly unsupported and offensive racial coding while positing itself as edgy and progressive, and suffers from the kind of imagery and aesthetic that would make a literal elephant in the room look subtle. There’s nothing in it that’s redemptive, let alone the fact that Landis is popularly thought to be coasting on nepotism, and that director David Ayer’s last outing was the dismal Suicide Squad. (In fairness, though, Ayer’s response to criticism has been about as fair as can be, tweeting that the “highest compliment is a strong reaction either way.”)
As mentioned previously, the movie fared poorly among critics, pulling in a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, but its streaming numbers are high to the point that there’s no way to ascribe every click to morbid curiosity. Yes, Netflix is often good for finding something to tune out to for a couple of hours, which is ostensibly where films like Bright come into play, but there seems to be more going on in Netflix’s aiding and abetting of bad movies.
There’s further proof of that in the success enjoyed by Netflix’s Adam Sandler vehicles, which, apart from Sandy Wexler, are flimsy at best. (One, The Ridiculous 6, was plagued by problems as to its treatment of race, which is yet another unfortunate trait that puts it in Bright’s orbit.) Even so, Netflix subscribers apparently can’t get enough of Adam Sandler. In April of last year, Netflix released a document in which it was reported that, “Since the launch of The Ridiculous 6, Netflix members have spent more than half a billion hours enjoying the films of Adam Sandler.” Take that statistic into consideration, and it seems a little less implausible that Bright is doing so well.
That said, the divide between what critics have made of movies like Bright and how well they’ve done popularly hews uncomfortably close to the “fans versus critics” mentality that hack filmmakers like Brett Ratner—before he was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women—had begun stoking in light of clashes over most of DC Comics’ recent films.
“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” said Ratner, whose production company RatPac Entertainment, which used to count Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as an executive, co-financed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the recent Justice League. “I think it’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful.”
Batman v Superman may have proved financially successful, but it was a terrible movie. And Bright represents the first time that this “fans versus critics” divide has hit streaming. In contrast to its 28% critics score, its “audience score” currently sits at 88%. When compared to the uproar caused over Batman v Superman and Justice League, however, Bright doesn’t really have the built-in fan base to warrant the stink it’s throwing up. That, and it’s a new low.
Or maybe the problem is hate-watching. 2017 was full of movies that got buzz just for being awful (The Book of Henry, The Snowman, Death Note), and people watched them as a result. Bright seems to have tapped into the same vein of success—or rather, it’s tapped into both veins: the compulsion to rubberneck at disasters, and the compulsion to seek out something mindless and “fun” to watch.
Well, if you’re one of the people clamoring for a Bright cinematic universe, you’ve got it now. The sequel will feature Ayer pulling double duty as director and writer, and both Smith and Edgerton are set to return. Maybe this time, fairy lives will matter.