May 23, 2019 Brightburn (Movie Review)
When James Gunn was fired from his Guardians of the Galaxy director’s job in 2018, the future of his Horror project Brightburn was in limbo. Then, after reconciling with Disney and Marvel studios 9 months later, and being hired by DC to helm to next Suicide Squad, Brightburn was announced for a May 2019 release. Directed by David Yarovesky (The Hive 2014) and produced by Gunn, Brightburn finally hits theaters on Friday, May 24th through Screen Gems.
The idea of an evil Superman is nothing new, so much so that the worldwide icon and most famous superhero of all time has seen several incarnations that are opposite his All-American upbringing by humble farmers in comics, animated shows, as well as video games, but Brightburn brings something new for the big screen.
Delivering most of what it wants to, and earns its R rating through some seriously violent moments, the film hits the ground running as we are introduced to couple Tori (Elizabeth Banks: The Hunger Games series, Power Rangers 2017) and Kyle (David Denman: True Detective series, Mad Men series) Breyer, who are unable to conceive a child despite their best efforts. Within moments from the start, the spacecraft lands, the Breyers name their new adopted son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) and we are given a picture and video montage of a seemingly normal life for a small town Midwestern kid.
Unfortunately for the Breyer family, things start to take a turn once Brandon hits puberty. Meanwhile, the Breyers managed to take the spacecraft and store it in the underside of their large barn, locked and chained by a trapdoor. When Brandon comes of age, the spacecraft wakes and possesses him.
In fact, Tori finds him in the dead of night, yanking at the trapdoor in a delirious, red-eyed state, speaking an alien language, but he remembers nothing when snapped out of it. Soon after this, young Brandon starts to discover that he is very different than anyone else. Brandon becomes more bold and confident, accidentally and then not so accidentally using his newly discovered abilities for his own impulses, which grow darker by the day. Then there comes a point where the spacecraft’s attempts to ‘wake’ him finally work, and after he is told of his origins it is the beginning of the end of his former human identity.
The Breyers are much younger than the grandparent-age Kents in classic Superman origins, but are good people who raised Brandon very well despite the outcome. This film plays on nature vs nurture; Brandon is not a human and trying to instill humanity in him is an unwinnable quest no matter how good the people around him are. The same way you cannot domesticate a wild animal, you can never humanize something as powerful and alien as what Brandon is. This begs the question, is Brandon evil by choice or just an alien whose nature is what it is?
Adding to the story, the performances from cast are all solid. Frequent Gunn collaborator, Banks, is excellent as the protective and motherly Tori. Never giving up on Brandon even when she knows there’s something not right about him, she’s the kind of mother every kid deserves. Denman likewise is charming as Kyle, a new father who does not always hit the right notes when trying to be a dad, but always tries to do the right thing even when stumbling through awkward moments like ‘the talk.’
Beyond this, the aforementioned violence is not constant, but when it does rear its head, it is quite shocking. For example, what would a human body look like after Superman flew straight into them at full speed? Exactly how you would imagine. Human bones are like glass to Brandon, and his speed can be so blinding that it seems like teleportation. Heat vision and immeasurable physical strength are also used to great effect, melting solid steel and lifting tons of weight with ease. When Brandon fully embraces his nature, Brightburn becomes a truly frightening ride of horror.
Overall, Brightburn is one of the year’s surprise Horror hits, especially amidst the superhero overload of the past decade. That said, this is not a superhero film, but a Horror story based on a twisted version of a classic hero. It focuses on its best aspects and despite a few story hiccups will leave viewers disturbed by what a superhuman could actually do if they were real. The story moves quickly, perhaps too much in some later scenes, but in the beginning it works fine. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Brightburn 4 out of 5 stars.