[Review] ‘Brightburn’ is Nearly Everything I Want from an Evil Superman Story

As a comic book fan I have a certain fondness for Superman.  He’s not my favorite comic book character, but he’s a canvas for some great stories like “Kingdom Come” or “Red Son.”  However, some of my favorite Superman stories aren’t actually about Superman, but have taken clear inspirations from him.  Stories like “Irredeemable” or “Supreme Power” where we see Superman-type figures through a dark and tainted lense.  So with “Brightburn” attempting to deliver on a Superman with a horror-bent I was extremely excited to see how it would turn out.  So did it live up to the hype?

“Brightburn” starts with Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer as they struggle to conceive a child.  However, when it seems as if parenthood isn’t in their future, fate intervenes and they discover a small baby has crash landed on their farm in a strange ship.  Years go by and their adopted son Brandon (Jackson Dunn) is starting to go through changes.  But whereas most twelve year old boys have to deal with puberty, Brandon is discovering he’s more than human and soon the world will feel his wrath.

The story of “Brightburn” starts off as a modern Superman origin story.  It hits all the beats you’d expect with the kid slowly discovering his hidden potential while his parents try to protect him from the truth.  However, whereas Clark Kent was a perfect kid who was pure and innocent, Brandon is your typical nerdy twelve year old boy.  He’s a little angsty and a little awkward, so it’s a good set-up for showing how superhero powers could make a normal kid crack.  Unfortunately, “Brightburn” doesn’t have time to slowly show Brandon going crazy.  So instead they have him go from awkward kid to murderous child in the breadth of one scene.  One day the ship that Brandon came in on just decides to tell Brandon he needs to take over the world and Brandon just goes with it.  There’s no conflict here, no anguish over what he has to do.  He just becomes cold and deadly.  This is probably my biggest gripe with the movie as it would have made his heel turn much more upsetting, but since it happens so quickly it doesn’t feel impactful.

Aside from Brandon’s weak character arc, I thought Jackson Dunn played a fantastic nefarious being.  He does an excellent job of delivering some rather chilling lines and just genuinely being creepy.  But he also has this great aloof attitude about him where he sounds as if he’s dealing with barely intelligent creatures.  It lets him have some solid comedic moments throughout.

Banks and Denman also have excellent performances and carry the bulk of the emotional weight of the movie.  Ranging from being in denial of what their son has done to having to deal with the consequences, there’s plenty of meat for them to chew on.  Ultimately, though, I think the characters suffer for the sake of plot as Tori comes off as being extremely naive in certain scenes and Kyle seems too eager to write his kid off when things go bad.  I feel like there could’ve been a happy median between these two extremes that would’ve led to a more natural transition from loving parents to fearful humans.

When it comes to the horror part this is one of the few movies where I would expect plenty of jump scares.  We’re dealing with a powerful being who has super speed. Of course he’s going to suddenly appear and disappear all over the place.  Even then though, there are some great lingering shots where Brandon is stalking his prey and watching in the background.  With his unsettling mask and devilish red eyes, it makes for an effective visual.  The violence, though, is clearly where “Brightburn” places most of its horror stock.  Despite his superpowers, Brandon isn’t murdering hundreds of people, but when he does kill it’s in extremely violent fashion.  There were definitely a couple of moments that left me squirming in my seat from how absolutely uncomfortable things were getting. One scene in particular involving an eyeball had the whole theater screaming.

If “Brightburn” had a more fleshed out story this would’ve been a damn near perfect movie.  As is, it’s still really entertaining and with it being only an hour and a half it breezes by.  Horror fans might enjoy this twist on supernatural killer kids, but if you’re a comic book fan as well then I think you’ll get the most enjoyment out of this movie.

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