The concept of an evil Superman is always an intriguing one, and one that holds huge storytelling potential. It was teased in Snyder’s BvS but the whole DCEU debacle killed that story thread before it had the chance.
I finally caught Brightburn (2019) now that it is streaming on Netflix.
Brightburn presents a similar pitch, what if a super powered alien chooses to use his powers for bad instead of good. The film follows a pretty standard plot that doesn’t do much to reinvent the genre, but it is surprisingly entertaining unlike what I was led to believe. The kills were well conceived and executed, and the gore wasn’t gratuitous.
It moved at a pretty quick pace but the film doesn’t successfully imbue much of a sense of dread. The quick pace and short run time come in detriment of the story.
The potential of the concept was wasted on Brightburn’s script. Superman’s origin story is so ingrained in pop culture, and bears no repeating here. But his origin is also about an alien who gets raised into a man through American values. Values from the 30s/40s, values that modern America moved on from as time went by and the world changed.
Brightburn could have explored that — what would a superpowered alien raised in Trump-led America grow up to be like? Will the shining beacon of hope become a symbol of oppression thriving off fear and ignorance?
Instead the film chooses the easy way out, while entertaining, makes for a pretty shallow watch. A super powered alien crashes into earth and as he grows up, becomes evil when his ship suddenly wakes up. The character (Brandon) was given no choice in the matter and was instead made out to be from an invasive alien species instead.
This takes away so much depth from the concept and leaves Brandon with no motivation for his actions — he is merely acting out of instinct. Most acts of violence that are carried out throughout the film lack proper motivation, making it seem like Brandon was just being horribly reckless and irresponsible with his powers.
There were certain points where the motivations behind his kill felt more substantial, but because of how underwritten most characters are, they lack the emotional punch the film was aiming for. For example, in a kill in the woods, the film was really angling for the sense of betrayal Brandon was feeling but the relationship between those two characters was so shallow it ended up being a wasted moment.
What was clearly meant to be a point of no return, a pivotal scene, was lost due to underwritten relationships and characters.
David Yarovesky directs the film fine, it’s decently made but as mentioned earlier, doesn’t succeed in creating a tense, sinister atmosphere the film could have benefited greatly from. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman do great with what little was given to them. Jackson A. Dunn is a great fit as Brandon, bringing a consistent something-is-up-with-that-kid vibe to the role. He was great.
There’s nothing wrong with not breaking genre conventions, especially when it is done incredibly well. You could end up with a masterpiece like Mandy. While the kills in Brightburn were interesting and well done, there wasn’t enough of a creative vision or direction to really elevate the film.
It is an entertaining film, you will probably enjoy watching this. I imagine this could be one of the horror films of choice at a slumber party, it brings enough to leave you squirming but nothing to truly make an impression.
Sony also needs to stop trying to make franchises out of everything. Much like how the end of Escape Room was a pitch for a franchise, the credit sequence for Brightburn was the same — just not as egregious. Had Brightburn been built up better, the case for a franchise would be more palpable. As is, a franchise proposition feels like it will tear up what little made Brightburn an entertaining watch.
What was most annoying was the song choice that played over the credits. As if you couldn’t already get from the 90 minutes prior, they chose to play Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy seemingly to hammer home that Brandon is, well, a bad guy.
Brightburn reminds us instead of the potential of a superhero horror film and the intriguing prospect of an evil Superman. The acts of violence in the film remind us how dangerous Superman could be and would make for a very interesting take on the beloved superhero.
It’s not like DC hasn’t explored such stories themselves, now will Warner Brothers dare to eventually green-light an Injustice like storyline for their films is another thing. I hope they eventually do.