So we all know Superman, right? Because if you know Superman, you know the setup for Brightburn. The setup matches Smallville’s to a tee:
A human couple pray for a baby, but nowhere in their prayers did they specify they wanted a “human” baby. So whatever genie granted their wish gives them a space baby, crashing down in his very own spaceship.
Brightburn kicks the Smallville formula up a notch by asking, “What if this space baby was evil? And not like, hyped up on red kryptonite evil, but ‘put the lotion in the basket’ evil.”
When I first heard Superman was getting a horror makeover, I was thrilled. In large part due to my longtime hatred of Superman. (That’s a discussion for another time, but he’s always been my least favorite superhero, lagging well behind Aquaman.)
The question posed is one that has been asked before, but never has the answer been given with an ‘R’ rating. And with the The Guardian’s of the Galaxy director, James Gunn, as producer (and with his brothers writing it) my expectations for this film were high.
It didn’t meet them. Before we get into that, let’s dig into some of the films highlights:
- Talking over the movie to point out every little similarity it shares with Smallville was fun. Which is all of them. I pretty much forgot that I wasn’t watching Smallville.
- Gore. As far as little Brandon Breyer’s (Jackson Dunn) sadistic brutality goes, this movie definitely delivers throughout. The most notable mention, the bit with that one funny guy (Matt Jones) and the way they did the effects for his jaw . . . nicely done.
- The lines shared between mother (Elizabeth Banks) and evil super son. Where mother says, “I know there is good in you,” and little Superman replies something like, “I want to do good.”
Well, I’m sorry Brandon, you should have thought about that earlier on in the movie.
But maybe, and that’s a hard fucking maybe, if his parents hadn’t turned on his evil ass, he would have had a chance of growing up to be good.
And that’s what I thought this movie was about, what it seemed to want to be about from time to time. The bigger question behind “What if Superman was evil?” The question of, “What made him that way?”
For the first twelve years of his life, this kid was any parent’s dream child. Well behaved, beyond smart, house broken! On top of all that, his childhood was pretty tame. Apart from the most lukewarm bullying I’ve seen in a film, Brandon had it easy.
First, there was a girl in his class who treated him nice, definite Lois Lane potential. All the way up until she caught him peeping through her window in the dead of night. In his defense, he was merely acting on urges, something his father (David Denman) may have mistakenly given him the green light to do.
Next, his parents were good and loving, real chill folk. Though daddy may have fallen a bit short of Jonathan Kent when it came to giving his son “THE TALK.” A delicate situation for any parent, made all the more delicate when you find human autopsy pics mixed in with their Victoria’s Secret spank bank. And then! He had the audacity to call his super son out on his murderous bullshit? Shame. Bad dad award.
That’s where one would expect the difference between Brandon Breyer and Clark Kent to reside. But no, the movie didn’t give us a Superman with drugged out and/or abusive parents. No explanation of “he was born this way-ay.” No attempt to delve into nature versus nurture at all.
It simply asked, “What if, you know, evil?”
Then they, you know, did that. How?
Brandon didn’t have an evil bone in his body up until, at the ripe old age of twelve, the spaceship he crash-landed in whispered to him from beneath the barn to do bad things. That’s right. All the emotional depth they had to work with and they fell back on the old trope of “the spaceship made me do it.”
Of course, Brandon, impressionable and susceptible to the mutterings of evil alien technologies, as most youth are, swings all the way from mild-mannered kid to stereotypical animal-slaying sociopath. And by the film’s pacing, it’s like killing animals was just a bullet point in his development as a nutcase. Everyone knows you have to dabble in chicken murder before moving on up to people slaughter and human dissection.
Yeah, like Brandon, we all want to do good. It’s just, some of us also want to dissect women and jack it to lady innards. Don’t you call me a sicko! Little Superman getting off on his Hannibal-esque acts is, at least, a heavily implied part of the movie.
Which I don’t get. Sure, the ship said, “Take the world.” But when did it ever say, “Derive sexual gratification from doing so.”
I don’t know, I don’t speak Kryptonese. Guess that part was for the audience, since we’re all a bunched of fucked up freaks ourselves. Does that make this whole movie blood drenched wish fulfillment?
Maybe our parents should take us to see a psychiatrist. Just like Brandon’s parents should have sent him. But, like, to a real psychiatrist and not his aunt.
Enough harping. Probably the biggest issue I had with this movie, it’s another where if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve damn near seen the whole movie.
Beyond that, extremely predictable. Because anyone who knows anything about Superman knows this one annoying tidbit about him.
This extends to his Brightburn incarnation.
No real tension when you know at every moment that, haha no, you can’t do a damned thing to stop this twelve year old psycho from ripping your face off. So tuck your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye . . .
Earth is fucked.
But we already knew that. Earth was fucked, evil Superman or no. Just now it’s fucked in a far cooler way. With eye lasers and dismemberment as opposed to boring global warming and nuclear winter.
It asks a simple question and gives a simple answer.
What I’m most excited to see come out of this is the shepherding in of more horror-based superhero movies, such as The New Mutants coming in 2020.
Brightburn could have been so much more, but what little it attempted it did well. It’s a bleak and gratuitous superhero slasher with glorious gore well enough rendered to contend with the best of fucked up horror.
My Rating? For the movie it tried to be, I give it a . . . 5/10?
For the movie it was, 7/10. Maybe 8/10. Fuck it, 11/10. They did great on the visuals. The costume was great, and it was hella cool seeing him fly around with that rad ass blanket cape, like some warped Linus or something.
Now that’s the Charlie Brown movie I wanted to see!