It’s the same old story. Childless couple find a baby in a crashed space ship. Raise him with a good moral compass, directing him to use his growing powers for the good of the world. Eventually the child grows up to become a super powered beacon of hope and compassion. If you’ve heard of Superman it’s a pretty certain you know this story.
DC Comics understand that this is the foundation of their whole universe and have applied variances of it over the decades: The spaceship crashed in Soviet Russia, Britain or even Gotham, always leading to a slight shift of the result. These Else World stories very in quality but I do enjoy the idea of shifting something and seeing how it plays out. Brightburn is another shift of this same story and leans into the Horror of what a super powered being could really do. It should be a terrifying event. Unfortunately, Brightburn falls far short of its potential.
As a Horror film, Brightburn is okay. The scares are fine and the gore effects are well done. There is little to complain about in the third act from a surface level. It’s just very by the numbers and rote.
Its takes a question “What if Superman grew up evil?” and runs with it but not very far. The problem is they don’t try and answer any questions satisfactorily beyond this, like “Why would a young superman become evil?” or “How would he become evil?” The movie provides an easy answer to all of them and it all boils back to … the evil spaceship made me do it.
When we meet the Breyer Family, they’re an average American family, Mum (Elizabeth Banks) and Dad (David Denman), raising a reasonably good but slightly outcast son, Brandon (Jackson Dunn). However, when Brandon, turns 12 the ship he arrived in activates and starts feeding him information. Within days, he is a full-blown supervillain. It runs from A to B and doesn’t care about making the journey interesting.
The film could have explored the transition. How a 12 year old deals with a devil on his shoulder telling him what he can do with him power, that he’s better than the Humans around him. How does this interfere with the morals that have been instilled in him for 12 years? Is this a slippery slope, starting with doing a couple of wrong things for the right reason? Is the power addictive to a kid that has been bullied? How does an adopted child and outcast deal with learning about his birth parents being from another world? This could and should have led to any number of tipping points that push the boy into taking his anger out on the world. Unfortunately, none of these are explored in any real depth. The filmmakers are more interested in getting him in a creepy costume and playing out evil superman fantasies.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe pushing the boundaries of Superhero movies, and with such a wealth of history exploring these themes, this film had an obligation to be better. By providing more exploration of these issues, building up a struggle between using his powers for good and evil, the eventual fall to evil would have delivered a much more powerful gut punch. What we get is a mildly stroppy 12 year old sociopath being a sociopath, which it turns out isn’t very interesting.
You only get so many chances at doing something different from the mainstream in Hollywood. If you don’t get it right the chances of being able to do it again dwindle pretty quick. Brightburn is a massive missed opportunity to produce not just an inventive horror movie but also a breakdown of the modern superhero myth.