What if Batman in Batman v. Superman was right? What if Superman truly was a murderous monster hellbent on destruction? Brightburn offers an answer in the form of a rare superhero/horror hybrid with a lot of gore and plenty of bite with its bark.
Superman, as a concept and conversation starter, has undergone a significant transformation over the past 6 years; a far cry from the beacon of hope and justice he was seen as decades prior. Superman is a figure that is not known as just a superhero, but as a way of life, constantly reaffirming the idea that helping others and carrying yourself as a selfless individual is the true path to walk in life.
Ever since he crashed on Earth, Superman grew up as a humble person, taking after the Kents’ kindhearted nature and using his overwhelming powers to save those in need of help. Superman has always been a fish out of water and up until recently, he has normally been portrayed as the odd one out who embraces his power, but stays humble at his core.
Even with darker interpretations of him in the DCEU, Superman never came across as a being that used his powers to intentionally do evil. In other words, he is a far cry from Brightburn‘s super antagonist, Brandon Breyer.
Brightburn, despite its similarities with Superman’s origins, is not a superhero film that has any established connections with any franchise related to superheroes, including DC. As a matter of fact, it would be dishonest of me to call Brightburn a “superhero” film when the most powerful character in the story is also the most evil and antagonistic out of everyone else. But “evil Superman” is the vision of the Gunn brothers and director David Yarovesky, so that’s what we will stick with.
Brightburn, which was initially set for a November 2018 release before the controversy with producer James Gunn pushed back the project, releases at an interesting time frame of 2019.
Avengers: Endgame is still going strong and Captain Marvel and Shazam impressed audiences with its themes of empowerment, acceptance, and embracing the gift of power for the purpose of helping others. Brightburn is none of those things, despite its classification as a superhero film.
The James Gunn-produced horror ride is not as concerned with instilling a strong sense of morals, focusing more on those morals being utterly foreign and falling on deaf ears in the case of Brandon Breyer. It is a descent into chaos and proves to be Bat-Fleck’s worst nightmare in terms of what a superpowered alien could do to the Earth. As always with great concepts though, what matters the most is the execution.
“He may look like us…”
The Superman comparisons are the most consistent when it comes to the backstory behind Brightburn‘s premise. Much like the man in the red cape, Brandon Breyer is introduced as an alien baby crash-landing onto a farm in rural Kansas (Brightburn, Kansas to be specific). The Breyers (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman), who are frustrated with being unable to have kids, take him in as though God sent them a gift from the heavens.
The gift quickly turns into pure punishment as the baby (now named Brandon and played by Jackson Dunn) grows into a young teenager and begins to receive visions and messages from the space pod he was sent in.
Breyer, who was already a quiet kid with a fascination for human anatomy, develops a severe superiority complex which is unfortunately strengthened by his newfound awareness of his insane powers. From there, we literally have the anti-Superman terrifying the folks of Brightburn with his God-like powers.
Brightburn‘s concept relies on audiences knowing who Superman is to fully feel the effect of having a similar character take a complete 180 shift to the dark side, so the backstory behind Brandon is not given a substantial amount of time to develop, which leaves us with a character shift that could’ve done with a few extra scenes of development to further enhance his eventual shift into a God-like slasher.
Brandon, as a character, is not shown to be a character who desires to do good by his parents even before he becomes aware of his powers, yet Brightburn paces along as though Brandon is going through a major ideological shift without exploring Brandon as a character beforehand. Seeing Brandon go crazy without an understanding of exactly who he is leaves for a somewhat muted amount of impact from his destructive tangents.
“…but he’s NOT like us.”
Brightburn in general fails to give us a clear understanding behind characters’ thoughts and actions outside of the Breyers, who we follow for almost the entire film, so the safety net to combat this glaring issue are the violent horror aspects that make up a good chunk of the movie’s action.
On one hand, seeing underdeveloped characters getting killed off by a serial killer sounds about as appealing as one of those straight-to-DVD horror films you find at the bargain bin at Wal-Mart next to the hard candies that nobody eats.
But Brightburn has a significant leg up on the competition thanks to its literal God of an antagonist. Having the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes, fly, exhibit super strength, and more makes for some disturbing kills that are in no way avoidable.
An unstoppable villain makes rooting for the characters slightly easier, given that chastising their “stupid” decisions becomes obsolete over the realization that even the smartest of movie choices wouldn’t save you from Brandon’s wrath.
In terms of its scope, this destruction and murderous rampage all boil down to Brandon’s desire to abuse power and his mother’s inability to see the larger picture over why this is disastrous. A large part of Brightburn sees her defending Brandon’s actions and lies with the excuse of puberty to cover up the glaring problem.
Everyone sees his actions as inexcusable, but under the guise of an innocent-looking boy, Brandon is essentially given free reign to abuse his incredible powers and further develop his God complex over the humans of the Earth.
Nobody can combat him and Brandon knows it, allowing him to relish in the violence and even just toy with his victims for the sake of self-entertainment. A damning and not-at-all subtle jab to the various politicians and billionaires that harbor similar financial power and status over the common people, Brightburn does not hold back in the gore factor to further illustrate how truly disgusting the abuse of power can be and the horrific and fatal effects it can have on those beneath Brandon in terms of power.
It is unfortunate that Brightburn held back on fully exploring this social concept and attributed much of Brandon’s evil to visions and voices in his head because the pieces were there for the filmmakers to dissect.
As it stands, Brightburn takes its Superman premise and essentially makes it into the transformation of Jason Voorhees with teen angst. Though the horror violence does save it from becoming a full-on disappointment, it does not gloss over what could’ve been.
Brightburn is a horror film that benefits from adjusting your expectations to something less epic and grandiose in scale. When watching it as a complex deconstruction of the super-powered alien (which the Dragon Ball series arguably already is), it gives us a mixed bag in terms of execution. But when watching it as a super-powered slasher film with an OP monster reigning terror among the helpless, Brightburn becomes a familiar, yet refreshing take on the slasher genre. Not memorable for character writing, but you will remember how these characters perish.
Final Verdict: 6/10
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