It’s crazy to think just how long superhero films have been successful. Donner’s Superman showed back in 1978 audiences wanted to see these characters move from the pages of comics to the big screen. In the following decades, we began to see more films. But the great adaptations (89’s Batman) were far outnumbered by bad adaptations (Steel, Timecop, Judge Dredd) and poor imitations (Doctor Mordrid, Black Scorpion). We now live in an age where the tables have turned. In the case of Brightburn, literally.
Every year we see a dozen or more films with characters in costumes saving the world, but whenever a genre reaches peaks of success we see subversions of the norm. This again can lead to some great films (Super, Special, and the underrated Blankman) and some not so great films. Every time we see these subversions it’s often as a way to pose a question that more than likely has been raised in the back of comic book shops for years. “What if (insert character) lived in the real world?” “What if what we’re reading is all in the hero’s head and they’re delusional?” Brightburn is the latest in the series of films that takes on a question that has been mulled over by many fans of the genre. “What if Superman had grown up evil?” An interesting question that could potentially have some interesting answers if examined properly.
As most readers have probably seen from the film’s trailer Brightburn not only takes queues from Superman’s overall story but takes aim squarely at Man of Steel and Zack Snyder’s take on the character. I don’t know if writers Mark and Brian Gunn took issue with some of the liberties Snyder took with the origin, but it certainly feels like it. As a reader, we assume that Kal-El could’ve grown up to enslave humanity had his ship crashed anywhere besides the Kent farm. Except in Man of Steel we see moments where Jonathan Kent’s wisdom doesn’t feel as wholesome or brave as it had in the past. This gave Brightburn’s creative team an opportunity to craft a twisted look at an iconic character.
The story does a great job at re-mixing the typical elements from the genre. Seeing the young Brandon learn of his heritage, abilities, and crafting a makeshift costume are all familiar territory with a dark bend. Moments like these work, but there are a few snags that trip the story up.
First and foremost the film clocks in around 90 minutes including credits. It’s a rare problem to have, but this film needed to be longer. Adding another 15-20 minutes to the story would’ve allowed elements to be fleshed out. This would give actors more time to show off their character’s motivations. In fact, either there was material cut from the film that will hopefully show up on Blu-ray. More likely, there was hope that a sequel would be made to help flesh the film’s world out. Either way, it often feels that just as ideas are starting to get interesting we don’t get the pay off we deserve. There’s also some hinting at why Brandon was sent to Earth in the first place. It’s just unfortunate that again the hinting feels more like sequel bait than a solid explanation.
One of the great parts of modern cinema is that many current filmmakers grew up watching low budget horror and action films of the old days and can now pay homage to these stories. This, in turn, allows for better caliber actors to take roles in these types of films. One of the best parts of Brightburn is the cast, most importantly Elizabeth Banks and David Denman as Brandon’s adoptive parents Tori and Kyle.
“I want to do good mom. I do.”
Both of them feel like your typical Midwestern parents. But their characters take very different roads once red flags in Brandon’s psyche are raised. To this point, both Banks and Denman give some of the best and believable performances of the film. Denman’s Kyle to me is how a rational person would react to the manifestation of Brandon’s powers. Let’s face it; in all the iterations of Superman, we’ve never seen a moment where a young angsty Clark uses his powers in a flash of anger. And yet, even though we know Tori’s completely in the wrong for the majority of the film we understand her justifications for Brandon.
All of us have known parents who have terrible kids, but they refuse to see any of the child’s flaws. Take that and dial it up a few notches for Tori. I appreciated these counterpoints and how they each tried to convince the other of their opinions of Brandon. All of this gives Banks and Denman a ton of great character moments that are the highlight of the film.
For the most part, Jackson A. Dunn does a decent job as Brandon giving him a silent loner feel. These moments work, but during scenes where he’s supposed to emote his performance can sometimes fall flat. And while the supporting cast has some fantastic talent. This includes the underrated Gregory Alan Williams and Meredith Hagner, everyone is criminally underused.
Brightburn Final Thoughts
While Brightburn doesn’t live up to its full potential it is still a fun ride. It’s just a shame that either they didn’t have enough to say with this story or felt fleshing it out would bore audiences. And while there is a mid-credits scene teasing a bigger world I assume this was more of a fun play on comic book films obligatory tease of their upcoming film. Too bad it wasn’t trying to seriously set up their cinematic universe.
Overall Score 3/5