Horror-Supervillain Mashup ‘Brightburn’ Disappoints
The premise of “What if Superman were a little shit” is well-trod ground, thanks to the recent DC Extended Universe. Still, Brightburn comes to us from producer James Gunn, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, promising a terrifying take on the idea of the Man of Steel. Directed by David Yarovesky, whose only previous directorial credit is The Hive (2014), the film takes us through all the familiar young Clark Kent beats.
BRIGHTBURN ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: David Yaroevksy
Written by: Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman and Jackson A. Dunn
Running time: 91 min
A young couple named the Breyers (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) take in a little boy (Jackson A. Dunn), who crash-lands in a small spacecraft onto their farmland in fictional Brightburn, Kansas. They name him Brandon and raise him as their own. Everything’s perfect until Brandon reaches adolescence and begins experiencing an awakening of latent super powers. The twist here is that his race has sent him to Earth with the exact opposite mission of the last son of Krypton: “Take the planet.”
Brandon sets off on a rampage that’s equal parts alien possession, pubescent awkwardness, and raging toxic masculinity. It doesn’t go well for Brightburn, Kansas. But then again, what ever does?
Rather than approach this in the same framework of a comic-book film and let the remixed story prove its worth through contrast, Brightburn is a horror film by design. It makes sense, since an evil Superman would probably result in cataclysm, but the film mostly concerns itself with how inventive it can get with superpowered murder.
Two absolutely gruesome bits of gore, which I loved, shock like misplaced moments from a Fede Alvarez flick that somehow got intercut in the editing room. They’re gnarly enough to possibly give Brightburn cult status down the line, but only for people who are willing to overlook everything else going on in the movie.
Brandon is a straight-up dick, even for a teenager. Everyone, especially his parents, ignores all the warning signs that, in today’s world, would at the very least earn a kid law-enforcement surveillance as a possible school-shooter threat. Banks gives a great turn as his adopted mother Tori, but it gets lost in poor writing that keeps her in denial about her son’s path well past believability.
Bright burn, disappointingly, doesn’t have much to say, which I suppose is OK for a slasher flick, but it could’ve been so much more. Despite the perfect setup for it, the script doesn’t explore the nature of evil. It’s just destined. Maybe we have the benefit of decades of Superman canon to look to, but even his destiny had a rationale and an ideology.