Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer are trying hard to have a pregnancy. So when a spaceship crash lands in the woods behind their farm carrying an infant boy, they have no problem “adopting” it as their own rather than report it to the authorities. It seems like a blessing from heaven. Jump ahead to his 12th “birthday”, and Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now a nerdy middle-school student with a fairly happy home life but a miserable school life as the kids tease him for being smart. Except for Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), who’s nice to him and sends a few smiles his way.
Then the spaceship that brought Brandon to Earth starts talking to him. When that happens, Brandon quickly discovers that he’s a very special boy: he has super strength, incredible speed, he’s invulnerable, he can fly, he interrupts electronics, and shoot blasts of intense heat from his eyes! The fact that he’s a superior being immediately goes to Brandon’s head and he starts acting out – back-talking his dad Kyle, being a creepy stalker with Caitlyn and then using his powers against her when she rejects him, and absorbing the mantra his ship has put in his head: Take The World!
As the body count starts to rise around town, signs start pointing both Kyle and the local police to Brandon. But how do you confront a 12-year-old menace who’s capable of murder… and has godlike powers?
Brightburn takes a look at what might happen if, when Superman first discovered his powers, he’d become an egotistical little $#!* instead of a hero. Being that I’m a Superman fanboy, that premise fills me with delight. It’s a total nature vs nurture scenario. It’s often said that Superman became a hero because of his upbringing – something that’s often played with in DC’s Elseworlds comics like the time Superman was raised in Communist Russia instead of the Kents, or when Lex Luthor was raised by the Kents. But in this movie, Brandon had the same upbringing and turned into a monster because of his nature – the ship “turning on” his evil alien invader side.
While that premise is cool, I feel like writers Mark and Brian Gunn (Bring It On: Again, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and director David Yarovesky (The Hive) dropped the ball in terms of Brandon’s motivation. At first, it seemed they were going to play with the angle that he’s getting back at the people who are mean to him… after all, his first acts were to make all the electricity in the pizza place go on the fritz when his dad told him he couldn’t have a present, and then later crushing Caitlyn’s hand for calling him a pervert. So I thought they would continue on that track and have him target bullies and authority figures that he feels is treating him unfairly.
That would have been cool! That would have been a timely piece that would make him relatable and make the audience second guess whether to root for him or not as he does awful things to awful people. Instead, Brandon seems to go after people somewhat arbitrarily who might stand in his way of… well… world domination. Thanks, evil spaceship.
The give credit where it’s due, the cinematography by Michael Dallatorre (Heartland, The Hive) was stunning and beautifully lit. The acting by all parties was just fine, with sole exception of the naivety of Elizabeth Banks… but that’s more an issue with the writing than her acting prowess.
I’ll also point out how absolutely gross this movie is! If you saw the trailer, you know about the scene where a woman gets a shard of glass in the eye and plucks it out herself. Let’s just say this turns out to be one of the tamer attacks in the film. There were more “Eww!” and “Ugh!” noises from the audience I sat in than with any of the Hostel films. The scares are mostly jump-scares, but there is some solidly grotesque gore in this.
Brightburn is a well-acted, well-shot film that had a solid premise… it just fell apart a bit in the choices the creative team made in how it conveyed that premise. The idea of exploring how someone equipped with superpowers might “choose” good vs. evil is interesting, but it’s a premise that needs to understand the genre to really work. For what it’s trying to be, Brightburn is still entertaining, but the lead being evil just for the sake of being evil left much to be desired.