The creation of a new franchise is no easy task. The starting film needs to have enough material not only for the film itself, but also it needs to leave enough threads open so that the sequels, and spin-offs can have several narrative roads to choose from. It isn’t easy, the task is reaching a four quadrant target audience, meaning; kids, teens, adults, and even old people.
In 2017, Netflix tried to ignite a new franchise by releasing Bright, a film directed by David Ayer, written by Max Landis and starring the once king of the box office Will Smith, and Joel Edgerton. Bright had every single ingredient to be a great new franchise, but the film was kind of lackluster. Max Landis’ original vision has a modern take on something like The Lord of the Rings, with deep history and lore, which became something more in line with a standard buddy cop movie. Now, Netflix releases Bright: Samurai Soul. Can this new installment revive the franchise, or is it dead on arrival?
Bright: Samurai Soul is directed by Kyohei Ishiguro and stars Yuuki Nomura, Daisuke Hirakawa, Shion Wakayama and Miyavi. The film tells the story of Izo, a ronin living during the Meiji Restoration, now working in a brothel. When the brothel is attacked by mysterious forces, Izo joins with an orc named Raiden and together will try to protect Sonya, a young elf girl who is being pursued by some very shady individuals.
Japanese animation or anime as it is often known is its own medium, and one with an amazingly rich variety of content. You can find everything; from kids shows, to detective stories, science fiction stories, horror, fantasy, and even some more heated adult stuff. There is everything, and for decades the anime studios have been able to perfect their craft to the highest level.
Lately, and mostly because of the great demand for anime series, some studios have been experimenting with 3D animation, cel-shading mostly. This animation style creates 3D models using vectors, which maintain a bit of the 2D quality that has made anime popular around the world. Using this 3D technology is way faster than having to draw and animate in the old fashion way. Sadly, the new technology isn’t there yet, and its limitations are apparent.
From the first seconds of its running time, this new animation style will be a dealbreaker for many. It is very clear that this style doesn’t look as good as the old fashion style, at least not yet, and it makes the characters feel very stiff in comparison with the fluidity that hand drawing brings. Also, the animators are trying to recreate the style of old Japanese paintings from the era, choosing a color palette, made out of watercolors. The effect is amazing when it comes to shots that are almost static. It might work in the future, but as of right now, every time a production chooses to go this way, it looks like a downgrade from the traditional animation style.
The other decision that might hurt the film from the start is the fact that the story is a simple remake of the live action film. If you have seen the live-action film, then you have seen Samurai Soul as well. It’s very strange that with the opportunity to create something new in this universe, the creators chose to just basically retell the first film again. Every single beat is in there, but now the cops are samurai and mercenaries. Both films even use the same MacGuffin. Because of this baffling decision, the film feels lazy and inconsequential. Maybe they are trying to use the same story to give the franchise a second chance, but that feels even more illogical.
The actors’ performances are fine, they do what they can with what they have, but at every step of the way it is clear that the material is insufficient. The characters outside Raiden, the orc, are rather dull, and they lack characterization.
The action sequences also suffer a great deal by the chosen animation style. You can see that the animation team is trying to do something cool with the camera work. This is understandable, as it becomes easier to do that kind of work when dealing with a 3D model. However, while the camera work gets closer to that of a live-action film, the movements of the characters end up breaking all the immersion.
This film might be the proof that Bright isn’t the franchise Netflix thought it could be, at least not in its current form. The universe seems so rich in possibilities, but Netflix has chosen to tell the same story twice, only with a different coat of paint.
As it stands, Bright: Samurai Soul might pass for a film good enough to kill 80 minutes of your time, or even maybe as background if you need something to listen to while doing some other stuff. But with lackluster animation, a redundant storyline and an ending that leaves nothing more to be explored, this might be the ending for Bright.