Brightburn Movie Review: A superficial twist on the traditional Superman story
This film needed a lot more time to spend on character development and without it, becomes yet another slasher-gore-horror film instead of the superhero horror genre it teases
Amongst the great pantheon of DC's superheroes, I have always felt that Superman never was given his due by the modern comic book fandom. Here was an alien, raised by human parents as one of their own. He, in turn, imbibes the best characteristics and lives on as a human, and even in his superhero avatar, espouses humane ideals of sacrifice, compassion, empathy, and love. However, the character was not translated well onto the bigger screen, and the essence of what made Superman such an important character, was lost. Enter the Gunns (producer James Gunn, and writers Mark and Brian Gunn), who, seeing a potential opportunity to further and develop the Superman mythos, flip the script and ask us a question, that will probably make us understand and appreciate The Man of Steel better - What if Superman was evil?
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn
Director: David Yarovesky
Tori (a wildly overacting Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) are a couple, who have been unsuccessful at bringing a child into the world. And they have been at it for quite sometime, as a longer-than-required lingering opening shot of multiple infertility books, shows us. It is at this down time in their lives that a spaceship crashes into their farm in Kansas (duh!) and we immediately cut to cute VCR shots of a young alien baby, being raised by doting parents. They name him Brandon, and when combined with his father's name Bryer, he gets a cool BB, which he riffs off into a symbol of his own. But unlike Superman's symbol S that stands for hope, BB's is a harbinger of doom.
Make no mistake about it. The film and its protagonist (played with aplomb by Jackson Dunn) dive headfirst into establishing the doom, as early as fifteen minutes in. But a large portion of this film's problems stem from this hastiness. While constructing the narrative of Brandon Bryer becoming an evil Superman, it's important to talk about the former as much as the latter. A huge part of what makes the Man of Tomorrow such a layered character is his Clark Kent persona, which is a mixture of the love of Mama Kent and the wisdom of Papa Kent. But here, there's no base built for us to care for Brandon Bryer as a loving child gone awry. We get a throwaway line about his precocious nature in identifying the difference between wasps and bees, and being lauded for it by a fellow classmate. That is repaid in a real creepy scene involving the two children later in the film, but these character developments are far and few inbetween. Similarly, part of the lore in Clark Kent becoming Superman is how he discovers his powers, finds it difficult to control them, gets the right advice from people around him, and then uses them for the greater good. In Brightburn, again, not only is less time devoted to Brandon's acquisition of the said powers, but also in explaining how he - a 12-year-old - immediately gets fantastic control over them.
For a small boy to turn into an all consuming evil force, it needs a significant mental/physical/emotional turmoil or a combination of all three to a high degree. Here's a mother, whose care is teased as more smothering than healthy in nature; the father is more hypocritical and trigger-happy than calm and mature. A mother who believes her son to be inherently good, whilst a father who doesn't believe that an alien can also be human just like that. There are various other allusions to potential trigger situations in the form of the boy getting to know his adoptive status, him getting bullied in school, people around him not trusting him as much. But this great nature versus nurture debate has no legs to stand on, because of underwhelming writing, and the need to tackle this as a slasher flick than a potential emotional drama.
But it's not a slasher flick through and through either. The film has four distinct gory moments that will make you want to throw up. The setups to these scenes are also well shot, one must say. The use of the colour red in one particular scene, and a window-in-window shot-making in another, put the dread firmly in you. A frenetic final quarter ends with what can only be termed as a tribute to the famed horror franchise, Omen. A firm tongue-in-cheek credits sequence teases us for a potential franchise of such 'superheroes as villains', but one can only hope they burn brighter than the flickering flame, that is Brightburn.