For lovers of the superhero film, this truly stands as one of the best times to be alive-with the box office having been continually slammed by adaptations from the likes of Marvel and DC for decades, the past clearly exists as an indicator that the future looks nothing less than blindingly bright for the genre. That said, it’s refreshing to see a different take on such a tried-and-true formula, which the James Gunn-produced Brightburn attempts to accomplish. Gunn, no stranger to the world of theatrical outings of this ilk, having helmed the underrated 2010 effort Super, two Guardians of the Galaxy entries, and a forthcoming third sequel, along with The Suicide Squad on deck in the years to come. It’s clear the man knows his way around such tales, and when paired with brothers Mark & Brian in his writing corner along with relatively unknown director David Yarovesky for Brightburn, could lightning strike once more?
Viewed by many as a low-budget, dark take on Superman garnered from the film’s trailers, Brightburn flew into the consciousness of many a film-goer following a secretive production and unexpected announcement this past December. At the time, Gunn was beginning work as the newly-hired director of the pseudo-sequel/reboot The Suicide Squad for crosstown Marvel rivals DC, just a few months removed from his rehiring as director of the third Guardians after a controversial year which saw him removed from the project. The realization that his stamp of approval would exist all across Brightburn, which when combined with his Suicide Squad unveiling and eventual return to Marvel seemed to indicate that the tides were undeniably turning for the man, but unfortunately with the release of Brightburn, it’s evident that even the most talented are still capable of turning out something extremely dull.
There’s honestly not much to say about Brightburn that hasn’t already been gleamed from the trailers-a humanoid youth (Jackson A. Dunn) crash lands on Earth in a Kal-El-esque fashion near the Breyer farm, where Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) have struggled with infertility and want nothing more than a child of their own. Taking him in as their son and giving him the name Brandon, it isn’t long before the boy begins to realize he may be a bit unlike those his age, especially as a variety of heightened abilities begin to emerge around his 12th birthday-there’s no denying the parallels to the many retellings of The Last Son of Krypton‘s origin story, but it doesn’t take long for the film to venture off in a different direction as Brandon begins to hear a cryptic voice speaking to him and his juvenile urges, long dismissed as that of your typical adolescent, start to take on a sinister vibe following a number of mysterious, violent events around his hometown which immediately raise suspicion that Brandon may very well be the culprit.
As a movie, the atmosphere echoes the rural supernatural intensity of A Quiet Place or 10 Cloverfield Lane, but unlike the originality present in both, Brightburn’s only weapon is making our hero transition into villain, which itself is a progression nothing at all special in the vast history of fiction. It’s an effort akin to a small town Chronicle, and unfortunately the manner in which Brandon’s badness begins to awaken contains easily foreseen jumpscares and is truly nothing at all different from every demonic possession thriller throughout film history as if it were a remake of The Omen set in Smallville. Yes, the eventual scenes where Brandon takes out his aggression are indeed intense, even nightmarishly so as the film winds down, but place him in a big city or remove his powers altogether and you’re now watching Man of Steel or even Halloween-let it be said, however, that the diner sequence does have a ghastly moment that’s already been seen in the trailers but still remains hard to watch. In the end, there’s nothing uplifting, exciting or smileworthy about Brightburn-throughout the duration of its brief 90 minute runtime one’s likely to find a bleak, dreary film that’s not the sort of thing with which you’d want to unwind after a long day at work.
Performance-wise, I’d like to think that everyone involved does what they can, but clunky dialogue and predictable character arcs don’t work to anyone’s benefit. Banks fares slightly better, operating in frustrating denial that her son could be such a monster & showcasing the mental unraveling one would undoubtedly undergo in such a situation, while Denman also holds his own as the realist of the family, and even Dunn delivers something that seems to accidentally touch on shades of brilliance, primarily when the transition occurs and he’s able to leave behind the awkward persona from the film’s first act, sporting an ominous, off-putting mask and the ability to project terror from something as simple as a blank stare. Outside of these highlights, nothing else is anything particularly memorable, and as an added bonus, one will likely have just as many backstory-related questions at the end as much as at the beginning.
Brightburn stands as an example of a film that lacks the twists that Gunn and crew clearly wanted, a film that doesn’t need a viewing to figure out where it’s heading and containing a few decent performances that sadly aren’t enough to warrant a ticket purchase as well. I applaud all those involved for the attempt, but if the box office is anything like the film itself, it’s likely this initially bright effort should burn out fast.