[review] Bright: A Populist Negotiation

The Force didn’t seem to be with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Walking out of the theater on the opening weekend (December 13), I noticed that quite a few people were unhappy with what had happened to their favourite film. As the days unfolded, more and more criticism gained traction online. Even the more positive audience reviews were tempered in their enthusiasm. It wasn’t a perfect film, obviously. It wasn’t the film people wanted it to be. What seemed to make it all worse was the high rating from film critics on Rotten Tomatoes – currently standing at 90%, falling only 8% since release. The plunging audience scores (to the current 48%) seemed a bigger drama than the film itself.

Things got complicated when Bright hit Netflix on December 22nd. People were telling me it sucked. People were telling me it rocked. Rotten Tomatoes was greatly divided as well. When I watched the Netflix trailer for the film, it intrigued me. It became apparent that I had to see it for myself… but this thought piece isn’t so much about what I think about Bright. What is far more interesting is the response to Bright as opposed to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Currently standing at an approval rating of 27% for the critics, Bright appears to be an oddly conflicting film for viewers, considering the diametrically opposing rating of 85% for general audiences.

What is happening here? When it comes to certain hotly debated/anticipated films, there seems to be a gap between critics and audience. It makes me wonder what critics are looking for and what general audiences are seeking in terms of entertainment.

Conversely, looking at Bright, I took stock of what the general audience was supporting/seeking. Looking at the first five pages of the general audience review, I polled each review by rating and the content of their review. 0-2.5 star ratings were set under dislike. 2.5/3-5 star ratings were counted as liking the film. I only included 2.5 ratings under like if the viewer stated they would be interested in watching the sequel. The results of the first five pages of reviews (a total of 100) showed definitively that the general audience was heavily weighted toward enjoying the film.

The people who enjoyed Bright cited the following reasons for their positive ratings: exciting/action-oriented [23], awesome genre hybridity [20], thought-provoking/relevant social commentary [20], “fun” [15], the actors [8], the world/setting [5], the plot [4], the “great ideas” [4], the characters [3], and the music [1]. However, even more telling the critics’ response played a factor in many responses. 35 comments mentioned either disliking or disagreeing with the critics. Many stated that the critics ought to be ignored, or the critics didn’t know what they were saying. A minority [5] mentioned recent “PC trends” that are too heavy-handed or linked critics to the propagation of such trends.

Conversely, people who disliked Bright very rarely could get beyond simple declarations of dislike. Some specified what they disliked at length – the longest reviews were in the “dislike”/”meh” camp, citing problems such as: poor plot/bad writing [12], obvious/failed social commentary [5], swearing [4], violence [3], “messy” [3], poor execution [3], “missed opportunity” [3], too rushed [2], “mindless” [2], and tonal issues [1]. Interestingly enough, Jesse O [2 star], Drake T [1 star], and K Nife C [1.5 star] are all considered “Super Reviewers”. Within the first five pages of reviews I polled, I found that no Super Reviewers positively critiqued the film. What is obvious to me then is that in general any claimant to authority on films or narrative structures did not receive Bright well. On the other hand, those who did enjoy Bright were more likely to state specific distrust in what the critics/authorities had to say.

Two forces are at work here, I think: what the critics consider to be acceptable and what the populous considers to be valuable. Despite the critic voices, populist negotiation is making itself felt strongly as production companies like Netflix watch their viewer statistics and make business decisions based on what the people want to see. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes offer spaces for voices online to speak out how they feel about entertainment content and values. The result is that sometimes audiences and critics agree and sometimes they don’t – but films continue forward with both groups in mind.

Furthermore, the gap between what the media (aka the loudest critics) presents and what reality suggests (aka Netflix’s secret statistics) appears to be growing – and it is  a hidden chasm which the media appears to be ignoring. After all, although positive social commentary and pro-equality messages are welcome, narrative uniqueness and difference are just as important when it comes to the production of new material. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, linked to nostalgia and a specific cultural time frame, is restricted to specific desires within the North American audiences and is, therefore, more likely to disappoint. On the other hand, Bright offered something else which everyone seems to be craving – a fresh, appropriate, and timely hybridity, blending the modern landscape with the fantastical. Narratives about equality and racism, set within a distinctive, yet relatable setting, removes the sting of personal implication and subjectivity, allowing the audience to reconsider their positions on social matters. So, whether or not you liked Bright, whether or not I liked Bright, Bright is here to get people thinking. It’s here to stay.

Works Cited

Ayer, David, director. Bright. 21 Overbrook Entertainment, 2017. Neflix, www.netflix.com/ca/title/80057281.

Johnson, Rian, director. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Lucasfilm Ltd., 2017.

“Reviews for Bright“. Rotten Tomatoes. Date Accessed: March 3, 2018. <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bright/reviews/?page=5&type=user&gt;


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