“Brightburn” has been marketed as a blending of the gruesomeness of the horror genre and the classic, but legally distinct from, Superman origin story, captained by the Gunn’s, who have had incredible success with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films for Marvel. I had high expectations regarding the film’s concept: What would it be like if Superman was a villain? But unfortunately, the film’s potentially deep and new premise is never explored on a philosophical level and all we are left with is a poorly paced movie with not enough gore to fully embrace its R rating.
Comic books have explored this concept before, but it has yet to truly be examined beyond the antagonistic ramblings of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor in Zack Snyder’s DC films. And I guess that is why this film feels like an underwhelming letdown. Yes, if Superman were evil, he would be threatening and violent, but just choosing to show that aspect of the hypothetical ignores all of the potential morality questions that make this such a thought-provoking topic in the first place. Every superhero learns that with their power, they yield equal responsibility to use their power wisely. If Superman were to act against his usual moral code, it would be far more compelling if he understood the weight of his actions, or at the very least possess a corrupted view of his own morality, than the simple “Oh, now he is bad because… BECAUSE I SAID SO” that we were given. The idea is brimming with potential but “Brightburn” would rather just remind you that Brandon is a threat with slow walks that lead to an inevitable jump scare than to explain why he is acting the way he is.
Perhaps I am unreasonable to expect a film like this to possess anything more than the gore it promised, but even on that end, I felt disappointed. There are about two scenes where the blood and human innards showed holds up its end of the bargain, but for the remainder of the film, it feels really toned down. So, the film fails as a gore-fest and is nowhere near intuitive enough to be a mystery or a thriller. It almost seems like it is just a simple slasher by default while having the untapped makings of something greater.
Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is the Superman-child in the film and it is a low hanging fruit to criticize such a young actor for not being able to handle all the nuances of his role. He does portray a character that is believably not of this world, but the story relies too heavily on his performance and without his eyes glowing red, he does not sell the type of threatening persona he is trying to wear. The progression of his character is not helped by writing either. Brandon is introduced as an unassuming, friendly, and incredibly intelligent 12-year-old boy, and without any real explanation, he abruptly becomes self-obsessed and totally detached from everything he once cared about. As a viewer, you are just left confused as to how this phenomenon could happen without any warning, provocation, or reason.
The true main characters are Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman), who are Brandon’s adoptive parents. Their role is simply to be a victim and slowly realize that their baby who fell from the sky, who has never bled, and who has super strength, might not be normal. They both love Brandon like their own son, but there were so many warning signs that he was going to be trouble that it almost seems criminally negligent that the idea Brandon could be dangerous only just crossed their mind 45 minutes into the film’s runtime.
It has been a while since I felt this let down by a film like this. The concept has such potential and it is regrettable that this film did not capitalize on it. I wish it could at least have been redeemed by excitement, but alas (Yeah, I said “Alas”. Fight me.), I was bored for a majority of the film. There are moments that are frightening, but I just hoped for more than we were given.
I would give “Brightburn” a dimly lit 4.4 out of 10
Directed by: David Yarovesky
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Meredith Hanger, Matt Jones, Jennifer Holland, Gregory Alan Williams
Runtime: 1 Hour and 30 Minutes