Starring: Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), David Denman (Power Rangers), Jackson A. Dunn (Shameless), Matt Jones (Breaking Bad), Meredith Hagner (The Oath)
Director: David Yarovesky (The Hive)
Writers: Brian Gunn & Mark Gunn (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island)
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes
Release Date: 24th May (US), 19th June (UK)
With the glut of superhero movies constantly in coversation these days (and as much as I personally love most of them), a subversive new take is always welcome to shake up the status quo. Of all the recent examples, Brightburn is easily the most brazen by directly taking one of the genre’s most iconic characters and turning the concept on its head. The premise has a lot of potential, but unfortunately the final product doesn’t take that initial idea much further.
From the way the film has been marketed, it’d be easy to think that Brightburn is a direct commentary on grimdark superhero stories (Man of Steel in particular) and plays with those tropes by taking them to their most ridiculous extreme. However, though perhaps that was the intention, the final product makes little to no attempt at any level of deconstruction and is merely content to just take all the beats of the Superman mythos and flip the switches to “evil”. It all feels a little too “been there, done that”, when more potentially interesting concepts are present in the storytelling but go frustratingly underexplored. There’s flashes where the film that want to be topical, whilst in others it wants to be something of a black comedy, but in the end it lacks much of an identity beyond the hallmarks it borrows. It is just superhero origin tropes mixed with slasher movie tropes, and even then they don’t always work together. I mean, it’s ridiculous enough when Michael Myers takes his sweet time before killing someone, but when your slasher villain is faster than a speeding bullet yet still can’t kill anyone efficiently, the rule of cool quickly runs dry. Once it gets to the meat of its premise, Brightburn just doesn’t really have anywhere to go but the beaten path, and by its conclusion it doesn’t really know what to do but shrug and half-heartedly set up a sequel. If the film had a little more ambition, there are so many great ways it could have escalated into something truly unique. As is, it’s hardly much better than the dark reboots it supposedly satirises.
The lacklustre energy also ends up permeating the film’s performances, with a cast who all do a fine enough job but don’t exactly stand out either. Elizabeth Banks fares best as mother Tori Bayer, mainly because she has the most to work with, but the writing still never quite takes the character in a coherent direction. Tori feels kind of stuck in second gear until the third act, and her motivations for remaining in denial lack much nuance other than “he’s my son” when there’s so many complex avenues they could have explored. David Denman as father Kyle ends up basically being an audience proxy, saying the obvious if in a somewhat abrasive way, but his anger feels warranted given the frustrating lack on momentum in the plot’s structure. Ultimately, where the film’s success or failure ultimately lies is with Jackson A. Dunn as the corrupted alien child himself Brandon, and his performance wavers wildly in quality. Dunn is great when he has to play innocent, avoiding the usual trope of the perpetually creepy kid, which does help lend credence to his parents’ inability to see what’s up earlier on. However, when Dunn does let his inner psycho fly, it’s disappointingly flat and falls right back into trope territory.
From an aesthetic level, Brightburn clearly can’t keep up with its big budget inspirations but it does a serviceable job with what little it has. The film really does go for it with the gore, delivering some unique slasher movie kills that should have you squirming, but then there’s also plenty of effects that look effectively amateurish; I won’t say much more, but the final kill has compositing that would look fake by the standards of Richard Donner’s Superman. Everything else about the movie from the cinematography to even parts of the score is clearly trying to crib from the Christopher Nolan aesthetic, and though the imitation is solid it doesn’t do much with it.
Brightburn has a solid pitch: Man of Steel meets The Omen. Unfortunately, it’s a concept that ends up making for a much better trailer than a feature film. If you’ve seen any of the marketing, you’ve basically already seen the movie in your head, and what you haven’t seen will probably just bore or frustrate you. Brightburn never does anything particularly awful, and it think within it somewhere lies a much better movie if it had the guts to be more political or morbid, but as is I can’t call it anything other than a disappointment. If you really want your dark Superman action, I’d suggest just picking up some Elseworlds comics instead.
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10