Written by Brian & Mark Gunn
Directed by David Yarovesky
The premise “What if Superman was evil?” is nothing new to the world of comic books. Over Superman’s eighty year history we’ve had characters like Bizarro, Ultraman, and Cyborg Superman who explore those darker aspects to a being like Superman. There have been books like Marvelman and Irredeemable that also examine these themes with even more detail. So, for comic nerds like myself, Brightburn isn’t bringing anything new to the table. However, I acknowledge that general audiences haven’t seen anything like this before, and if you are someone tired of the same old superhero origin tropes, this does offer a different take.
Brandon Breyer was a miracle sent from the sky twelve years prior. He has been raised by Tori and Kyle Breyer of Brightburn, Kansas and seems to be a brilliant yet otherwise normal young boy. However, the craft he came to Earth in begins emitting a droning signal that pulls Brandon towards it. He discovers that he cannot be cut, harmed, or take ill, and this grows a sense of superiority. When Brandon is threatened or challenged, he resorts to brutal violence, creating a masked identity for himself and covering up the crimes to make them appear like accidents. Despite growing evidence to the contrary, Tori doesn’t want to believe that her only son could be capable of such grotesque crimes.
Brightburn is the latest production of James Gunn and fits perfectly in his company’s growing catalog of modern B-horror pictures. Slither, Super, and The Belko Experiment all continue a tradition of a type of subgenre of film, the kind that is never going to get critical accolades or win any awards. There will be an audience who finds Brightburn fits in their wheelhouse and will enjoy the hell out of it. If you go for horror with gratuitous gore and special effects, then you’ll get plenty of gruesome moments in this picture.
All Brightburn provides is an interesting premise. Nothing that happens over the course of the film will surprise you, and so many plot beats are telegraphed early on. Brandon and his mom play a hide and seek game using a specific whistle. That is reused for ominous purposes in the finale. Only the metal of Brandon’s ship can cut him. You better bet that will have a third act payoff. The filmmaking here is very competent, but the screenplay is lazy and never subverts our expectations. Most characters are one-dimensional, and you can compose a list of who’s going to die within the first twenty minutes. Elizabeth Banks does stand out as the tormented mother of Brandon, and she’s the highlight of the whole picture.
I still think there is fertile ground to be found in the places superhero and horror films crossover. I hoped that this film would explore the pathos of the characters involved and provide depth and layers, putting the audience in a position of conflict. We would feel sympathies for a confused, overpowered child yet fear for the humans around him who are being killed. Instead, we get a completely cold and unfeeling antagonist and humans that end up being a vehicle for gore to happen. Disappointing.