- Directed by: David Yarovesky
- Written by: Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn
- Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman and Jackson A. Dunn
- Classification: R; 91 minutes
As much as it might like to consider itself innovative, Brightburn is not the entertainment world’s first attempt at imagining: “What if Superman … but evil?” Twisting around the standard superhero mythos toward the malevolent is a familiar exercise in the comics world, explored in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Garth Ennis’s The Boys, and Grant Morrison’s Superman: Red Son. With great power comes great irresponsibility? A fun idea, but not a fresh one.
So what do Brightburn co-writers (and cousins) Brian and Mark Gunn and director David Yarovesky bring to the superpowered party? A whole lot of blood. The trio’s update on Clark Kent’s upbringing is supremely violent: faster than a speeding bullet in its desire to gross you out, and able to leap tall questions of logic at a single bound.
The film isn’t coy with its conceit, either, which is appreciated. It quickly assumes that its audience is uber-familiar with everyone’s favourite Übermensch, starting off with a quick scene of wholesome, infertile couple Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) finding a downed spacecraft in their Kansas backyard. Flash-forward a few years and the sole passenger of that vessel is now a tweenager named Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), a picked-upon kid who’s never bled and can throw lawn mowers across the yard like so much a baseball. Oh, and he’s starting to display psychopathic tendencies – from stalking a female classmate to queasily eyeing the occupants of his parents’ chicken coop.
It’s not long before Brightburn’s young Kal-El facsimile takes the film’s puberty-is-Hell metaphor and outruns it with furious speed. Soon enough, Brandon is donning a creepy Deadpool-like mask, taking to the skies and eliminating anyone he perceives as an enemy – and with extreme prejudice. Stomachs are sliced open, eyes are lodged with glass, jaws are torn off and skulls are obliterated with a quick blast of heat vision.
This would be a fine enough approach, were Brightburn to use its gore to transcend either its horror or superhero movie tropes and say something interesting about the genres. Instead, the film is content to merely shock, a trick that grows increasingly tiring as the film drags itself to the inevitable showdown between mother and son.
Much is being made of Brightburn’s connection to James Gunn, who’s successfully Frankenstein’d the horror and superhero genres before (the perfectly disturbing Super), when not reinventing each separately (Slither for the former, Guardians of the Galaxy for the latter). Yet, Gunn is only a producer here, presumably lending a helping hand to his brother Brian and cousin Mark, and convincing regular collaborators such as Banks to take a few weeks out of her schedule to spend running frantically around a Kansas barn.
Although Brightburn’s final seconds hint at James’ more finely attuned cinematic sensibilities – including what I’m going to assume is a self-deprecating jab at his upcoming Suicide Squad sequel – the film is not nearly as strong as its villain. It is, however, just as immature.
Brightburn opens May 24
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