Running Time: 118 minutes
Written by: Mark Gunnand Brian Gunn
Directed by: David Yarovesky
Featuring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones and Meredith Hagner
Brandon Breyer: “Mom, who am I?”
Mrs. Breyer: “You are a gift. I know it’s been difficult for you lately, that you feel different from other kids. You are different. After your dad and I got married, we prayed for a baby for so long. One night, someone listened.”
Released shortly into cinemas is what could be called the latest superhero movie, “Brightburn” (2019), this time with a twist in that the hero is actually a villain, his origin being one many should be familiar with, it is the Superman story, but instead of growing up good, with a purpose to protect humanity, this one tells the story of an alien super being with a destiny to destroy humanity, or at least bring us to our knees. On the very surface this movie may seem like an interesting idea, which to be fair it is, however that is all it is a very good idea that asks an important question about nature versus nurture which is something that has been asked for decades. Where this movie falls down is that it side steps any serious analysis of that question which would have been interesting and turns our antagonist into nothing more than a side show with some serious stalker issues as well as many other elements that can be found in any moderate slasher movie, which in case people have not noticed is so outdated modern horror movies don’t even use anymore. Not only that but evil, or bad Superman has been a range of storylines in comics for decades which reached its (possible) nadir with an alternate version, ‘Superman: Red Son’ which posited a reality where Kal-El was raised in the USSR. It was executed much better in the comics giving it the gravitas it deserved. This new movie is an attempt to frame something radical without actually offering much that is new or original which is a missed opportunity, the fault would have to be laid at the feet of the writers, directors and a producer who really should know better.
With a movie like “Brightburn” the experience as well as talent of the creators has to be addressed, here we find a screenplay by Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn who are the brothers of director (here producer) Jason Gunn as well as actor Sean Gunn. One need only look at their experience to see they have very little in creating original material, here all the heavy lifting is carried out by previous writers of any origin story mixed with the actual comics of ‘Superman’, any ‘Superman’ based television show or movie, in fact ninety percent of the plot of this movie is as ‘Superman’ derivative as anyone could ask for with a hint of a ‘bad seed’ and a generic slasher movie thrown in for good measure. This screenplay says nothing new at all, it does not push the genre forward anywhere at all, which is a crime when a central idea like this is put forward. This is what is most unfortunate about this movie, it had a chance to deconstruct the super hero movie in a way not seen since the M. Night Shyamalan genre defying “Unbreakable” (2000) did with not only an original story, but great characters, excellent performances and a well thought out narrative, most of which is missing in “Brightburn”.
It is not only the writers who are out of their depth, director David Yarovesky, has only one other movie under his belt, a low budget horror movie five years ago which failed to make waves. As a director when at the helm of a movie like this, a vision needs to be created and maintained which definitely does not happen here, with a low budget (US$7 million) the special effects as well as stunts and other onscreen action needs to be believable, fit within the narrative and not cheat an audience as to what they are viewing. In this case it nearly works but the skill of Yarovesky, is exposed, we do not see Brandon fly until the last scenes which is a letdown for many reasons, the action is a little mundane and takes place offscreen. I realise why all this was executed this way but it adds nothing, maybe if we had never seen a comic book movie before it may have added tension instead of frustration, but it does not really work for me. If there was ever a template for this type of movie, that is a low budget, genre defying, original and surprising piece of work it is the great Monsters” (2010) written and directed by Gareth Edwards. With that movie we had new insight into a genre that at that point had been done to death, but with a good story wrapped around a micro budget the director was able to inform an audience about an entirely new world, some of those lessons could have been used here.
“Brightburn” concerns a mother, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) whose dreams of motherhood come true with the arrival of a mysterious baby boy. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) appears to be everything Tori and her husband Kyle (David Denman) ever wanted—bright, talented, curious about the world. But as Brandon nears puberty, a powerful darkness seems to manifest within him, and Tori becomes consumed by terrible doubts about her son. Once Brandon begins to act on his twisted urges, those closest to him find themselves in grave danger, as the miracle child transforms into a vicious predator unleashed on an unsuspecting Kansas town.
One would think that a movie about a superpowered boy would be led by that actor but the main and outstanding performance in “Brightburn” is the always reliable Elizabeth Banks who as a protective mother plays the part to perfection in that she has to portray someone who has been waiting on motherhood her entire life and presented with a gift from above wants to believe in that right to the end of the movie, where she must embrace the reality of what her child is as well as the choice she must make. However, the way in which this unfolds lets her down as she only has moments to portray this betrayal when really it needed much longer to give her the central part she deserved. To say that Banks is the shining light in this movie is an understatement, the rest of the characters seem underwritten to the degree that the actors portraying them are given very little to do and end up being cut out shapes with little empathy which is needed when asked to view a movie with such limited scope. In terms of Jackson A. Dunn the young actor playing Brandon, he has the difficult part of playing an alien, not really knowing who he is and in that regard he seems to do that well, although there is such limited range in the character it is truly difficult to know whether it was what was required or is he just wooden, which is what comes off the screen.
At a taught ninety minutes “Brightburn” begins as it is going to end, really saying very little, offering a movie that feels like we have been there and done that many times before with the relatively original way in which the story is actually about a ‘bad seed’ which as I have said is nothing new, I mean it is even a sub-genre, and not a very good one, even John Carpenters “Village of the Damned” (1995) is a better movie, it has better actors and at least gives credit to the original novel.If “Brightburn” had been a little honest it could have not only commented on nature versus nurture, but could have actually had some fun with it as well offering three dimensional charters that would have elicited emotion, even the conclusion is a little routine with some of the more interesting outcomes contained within the end credits which is a little insulting after having put up with a plot that is not that interesting in the first place.
In saying that if you want to see a middle of the road action movie then you will not be let down, it has obvious hints to ‘Superman’, if you are a non-comic book reader or do not see many comic book movies then this may be quite original to you which is not a bad thing. However if you are an avid reader and viewer of comic book material this will offer very little in the way of newness or originally but it is not inherently a bad movie.