Superhero’s are like, totally my jam. Like my jam, jam! But, supervillains… … ... yes please. You can’t have a good superhero without a good supervillain. What would Batman be without the Joker? What would Superman be without Lex Luthor? It’s that yin and yang, that never-ending battle between good and evil, right and wrong that makes these stories in comic books, graphic novels, TV shows and movies so great.
I wrote in my “Shazam!” review (which you should totally go back and read if you haven’t), what it meant to me, to be super and why there is so much appeal. Yes, the powers. But if we dig deeper, it’s the morality conflict these stories explore or at least try to. Zack Snyder’s’ take on the Man of Steel was and still is met with a lot of vitriol. Not that it didn’t deserve some of it or isn’t his right to explore a more deconstructed Superman, it’s just when it’s not done well the audience also has a right to express their extreme displeasure. I rather enjoyed Cavill’s portrayal as one of the most physically imposing yet morally conflicted we’ve gotten yet. “Man of Steel” was for the most part Superman’s first day on the job. For half of the film we get to live with Clark battling being different while not looking different. How, he suppresses his desires even though they’re the same ones everyone else has. The relationship between Clark and Jonathan Kent is powerful as Pa is trying to teach Clark about the responsibility he has with the powers he’s been blessed with. It’s an unfair responsibility, yes. But, he ultimately teaches him to use his gifts to better the world.
What if he CHOSE to do the opposite. What if he succumbs to his desires and used his speed and strength to go out for the football team? What if he used his x-ray vision to cheat on tests, or peak through girl’s tops and skirts? While that’s bad, it’s also interesting. We’ve had interesting takes on the Superman mythos and “Brightburn” had the set up to be the first one cinematically. I’ve always been taught as a writer to deliver on the promise of the premise. What if the film never goes beyond the premise though?
Brandon Breyer (Jackson A Dunn; also, what a classic super hero alter ego name) is your typical mid-western pre-teen. He’s going through changes as we all have except his are little more of the extraterrestrial variety. He’s got a loving mother a cool farmer dad and life is pretty grand. Except things aren’t what they seem. On the eve of Brandon’s 12th birthday he begins to have intense dreams. He can hear mutterings of a weird alien like language and it causes him to sleep walk. His behavior moving forward becomes more erratic. He talks back to his father, Kyle (David Denman). His mom, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) is chalking up his actions to good old puberty. However, when his actions grow mysteriously more violent and incidents around town deadlier, mom and dad put 2 and 2 together and realize it’s time to reveal a secret to their son that he is in fact not just their foster child, but from a crashed space ship from outer space hidden in the family barn.
This premise is cool and like I mentioned earlier we are now in the Golden Age of Superhero Movies and this is a welcomed change to some of the more formulaic MCU films and the mixed received DC movies. This is a low budget major-indie with some serious names behind it. And if you didn’t know that the marketing splashes it all over the movie poster and trailers leading up to the film’s release. The embattled and controversial James Gunn produces while his brother’s pen the script and David Yarovesky directs. I’m not too familiar with David’s filmography and after doing a little research he’s relatively new. The direction of this film is partly the problem overall but as is the case for most bad movies it starts with the script.
The script on its face isn’t all out bad just incomplete. The Gunns’ have particular tastes that are very horror heavy. Of course, the most famous Gunn, James is a visionary writer director with his own sense of style and flare that is apparent in all his projects. That style is not in “Brightburn” nor is his grasp of good character development. If it is, its very reserved and maybe for good reason. I don’t want to get into the politics of his recent firing and rehiring with Disney, but overall the direction in this take on an iconic character was risky, and it doesn’t pay off.
As a matter of fact, there is no pay off. There’s all set up and no arc to any character in this film.
Elizabeth banks does what she can and much to my chagrin with her casting she’s not that bad either. That “Power Rangers” stinker really left a bad taste in my mouth. How does a mother who’s having trouble conceiving deal with a gift-wrapped alien baby crash landing in her back yard? Would’ve been nice to have that play out on screen. So, that when Brandon makes his turn we can see an emotional battle of her reconciling the mistakes she’s made, and her decisions are more earned with being presented an opportunity of doing the right thing. We don’t get to see that, though.
David Denman; you know Pam’s ex-boyfriend from “The Office” (sorry dude). Dan is challenged to play an average written character set in an extraordinary predicament. The son he loves is openly disrespectful, angry and physically violent towards him as he matures throughout the film. Imagine, being able to sit in a father’s hesitance for years or just a little while at the hand he’s been dealt. How does having trouble with conception with his wife weigh on their marriage? How does it now, weigh on his relationship to his son who is a reminder of something great but also something mysterious. The Gunn’s and Yarovesky missed an opportunity to have dear old dad serve as something more than a nuisance to Brandon. Not that he should be a moral compass like Pa Kent was for Clark in “Man of Steel,” but another narrative obstacle for Brandon to overcome.
That’s it, there are no obstacles emotionally for Brandon to overcome.
Jackson a Dunn is a sweet face. Perfect for the marketing to hook you to see a baby-faced killer on the loose in Bright-whatever Kansas.
And another thing. Brightburn? Come on. I’m a stickler for the importance of a film title. If we’re going with this town than what does it mean? What does it mean to Brandon or this family? What makes it special in relation to the overall conflict? “Smallville” was great because the story wasn’t just about Clark growing up to later become Superman, but how this town impacted him and his development. The towns people, the school. How Smallville was more than a small town because it embodied all the potential Clark had within him shaped by his peers and how it taught him everything he needed to know even in setting out for bigger cities in the future.
Brightburn, Kansas is a mere ant to Brandon. Brandon just does. He’s never internally conflicted with the change in his mind and body. He doesn’t make a choice. He’s more activated if anything. So, is it cool to see a young kid imbued with powers not doing good, and instead killing anyone he wants without a thought?
But what’s even cooler is how those decisions affect him. Does he love, does he feel remorse? We have no time spent with Brandon as a character, so we don’t see him grow. What is appealing about a horror film with characters that aren’t likeable and aren’t fully engaging? What if Aliens came to earth and attacked us with our guard down? Cool premise, like it really is. “Independence Day” took the premise and went further. Imagine ID4 ending after the global attack that gave us one of the most iconic cinematic moments in American Film history. That glorious green wave of destruction that wiped out the White House and all of New York City. We then follow Captain Hiller, David and the freaking President of the United States along with the rest of the world, fight back and that’s more narratively satisfying and way more interesting.
So, while “Brightburn” is a Supervillain Movie with decent enough VFX and offers something different in the superhero genre, it unfortunately has nothing to say. It’s a total gore fest. If that’s your taste, enjoy and eat up some impressive kills and unique acting performances despite a script that’s pretty shallow. This film doesn’t necessarily do a lot of things bad cinematically, but not too many things good either and overly focuses on the premise and delivers unfortunately, no promise.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 5/10
Director: David Yarovesky
Writers: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A Dunn
Run Time: 91 mins