James Gunn is obsessed with the idea of the superhero.
Lets first be clear about that. If that isn’t evident enough from his past and future filmography, which includes a trilogy of Guardians of the Galaxy movies, a Suicide Squad film and a subversive, hard-R-Dwight-Schute-led dark comedy, Super.
Here, Gunn enters in a producer role (and who knows how much creative input he actually had) but his brothers, Brian and Mark Gunn, penned the script for an original, subversive superhero-horror mashup. Thus, Brightburn was Born.
Helmed by director David Yarovesky, Brightburn is what happens when you cross the Superman story with Chronicle. No matter what reviews you go to, I will guarantee you that the writer will make the comparison to Superman. Normally I might caution against making a literal comparison because it can sometimes do a disservice to the actual movie, but Brightburn invites those comparisons (whether intentionally or not).
The setup of the story is almost the exact same as Superman. A child sent from another planet who is then found by a married couple on a farm in the midwest of the United States. They take him in and raise them as their own but as the child grows older he begins to show that he has powers (sound like anyone?)
So yes, Brightburn is essentially the look at the Superman legend if instead he was evil.
Even many of the visual aesthetics borrow heavily from Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. From Snyder’s handheld camera style to the color grading mirror Snyder. If the interpretation of Man of Steel rung as cynical in its worldview (which is up for debate), then this almost feels like the Gunn brothers said, “okay if that’s how you present Superman then let’s take it a step further.”
With that, we get a superhero movie that is dark, disturbing, full of gore complete with an almost nihilistic outlook. Still, the screenplay doesn’t take full advantage of its premise, leaving us with a somewhat entertaining horror film that isn’t particularly insightful or memorable.
Brightburn is so appealing as an idea and concept, but the execution left some to be desired. We would never get an actual Superman movie like this and seeing the idea of Superman being subverted is an interesting concept. If a child found out they had all these gifts and powers would they actually use them for good? Even if they were raised with good moral values would they still be tempted?
Let’s face it, if a kid had the power of Superman, it is more than likely they would, at the very least, get into a little trouble with it. Power is a corruptive force and Brightburn has no trouble embracing that force.
At ninety-minutes Brightburn is a tight package. It wastes almost no time to unravel its premise. The evil turn for the child named Brandon starts happening far too quickly. We barely know Brandon before he embraces the evil side (it’s also never made clear if the evil is within himself or externalized). In doing that, it robs us of the chance to see the tragedy or empathize with the adoptive parents (played nicely by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman).
There is a lot of lip service given to the idea that Brandon isn’t the same as he once was and is changing, but we (the audience) barely get to see these changes. The changes aren’t gradual, but instead very sudden. The first act is so rushed and yet throughout the movie, you see the moments where the the payoffs are supposed to be but aren’t. It doesn’t entirely work because the Gunns didn’t do the heavy lifting in the first act.
Without that depth and character work, we are left with a fairly standard slasher flick. Perhaps that’s all they were going for and the depth, that I’m looking for, was never there to begin with.
Still, as a standard slasher flick, the characters might be lacking but the gore certainly isn’t. The kills are surprising in their brutality (there was a moment where I looked away from the screen in a good way) and that’s Brightburn at it’s best.
It’s not all that scary (although it occasionally can be) but it can be entertaining and thrilling. The attack scenes are fairly repetitive in their setup but director David Yarovesky finds some fun and creative ways to execute the scenes.
While I found myself entertained by the middle portion of the movie, the ending (like so many horror films) isn’t that great. The finale of the action itself is entertaining and the story’s ending is as grim of an ending as you can conjure up. It works with the bleak nature of the film’s worldview. However, does the ending fulfill any arcs? Since the first act felt so rushed, I felt that anything the ending was communicating about the narrative was a bit lost.
With all that said what are we left with? A bad movie? No, Brightburn isn’t bad and has a couple of thrills to go along with it. It is certainly unique, there aren’t any real horror-superhero movies out there, so in that respect, there is a bit of novelty to it.
David Yarovesky shows a bit of inventiveness, even if the horror scenes are repetitive. Still, the film’s decision to really only scratch the surface of its unique concept and a rushed first act hurts the movie’s chances to fully appreciate the characters and content.
Of course this film sets up sequels. Do I want those sequels? Probably not.