Synopsis: What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?
Stars: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, Becky Wahlstrom, Gregory Alan Williams
Director: David Yarovesky
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: If you ask even the most hardcore comic book or superhero fan, they’ll tell you the most difficult movie to get through is the origin story. The necessary evil in the introduction of any known entity, it’s the one entry that often gets marked down for its inevitable sameness. It’s made all the more frustrating when a studio goes back to the drawing board and wants to begin their big franchise from the ground up again…because it means another take on how our hero or heroine came to be so very super. While some films have found new angles into the telling of these tales, most find themselves fumbling through rote storytelling arcs as a means to a predictable end.
Living in an age where remakes and reboots are all the rage, I can see the appeal of Brightburn to a studio hungry for an interesting property that poses quite the question to viewers: What if a childless couple found a baby in a demolished spacecraft and raised him as their own, but rather than growing up to be a hero he becomes malevolent?
On an ordinary night in 2006, the town of Brightburn, Kansas saw its population grow by one when Tori and Kyle Breyer’s prayers are answered and a baby boy literally falls from the sky. Over the next 12 years the Breyer’s don’t speak of that night, telling the boy only that he was adopted and living a peaceful life on their remote farm. They notice, though, that he’s never sick, never bleeds, never gets a bruise. On the eve of his twelfth birthday, a strange beacon coming from the barn awakens Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, Avengers: Endgame) and it flips some kind of switch inside him, unleashing a host of powers he never knew he had. Over the next several days these powers will grow, as will his desire to take over the world…starting with Brightburn.
Turning the Superman origin story on its ear, Brightburn most definitely has the kernel of a unique concept but it’s unfortunately not been developed too far past that logline. What’s arrived in theaters is a half-baked movie born from a half-baked idea. The script from Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn feels like a second or third draft that needs more work because the dialogue is weak (we’re talking Saturday Night Live spoof sketch level bad) and the second half of the movie are just repetitive scenes of Brandon enacting grotesque violence on people that run afoul of him.
Admittedly, there’s some art to a few of these gore displays but they are peppered amongst uncomfortable scenes that are incredibly awkward to sit through. Did we really need to have the moment where Kyle (David Denman, jOBS) has “the talk” with Bradon and tells him about masturbation? Or several squirm-inducing passages where Brandon makes unwanted advances on a preteen girl in his class…going so far as to show up in her bedroom to terrify her? It’s one thing to stage horror sequences where adults have gory maladies befall them but the objectification of the children was a skeevy step director David Yarovesky should have avoided. There’s a pervy undertone to the movie that can’t be ignored.
The biggest misstep by the filmmakers is that they abandon their revisionist idea almost as soon as they introduce it, reducing Brandon to just being a creep instead of someone evil to his core. That his parents ignore his behavior for so long starts to be a reflection on their bad parenting more than his devolving to a darker side. By the time everyone realizes what’s going on, it’s too late and we’re already in the final act. Even though it’s blessedly short at 91 minutes (85 not including credits) the movie struggles to maintain focus, mostly due to poor plotting and inconsistent pacing. The last 20 minutes are a mish-mash of bad CGI and headache-inducing light flashes.
There’s most likely several factors Brightburn made it to theaters at all and didn’t go straight to Netflix where I think it would have found greater success. With James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) producing a script written by his brother and cousin, he brought on old friend Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) as its only notable star and while she’s not A-List enough to open a movie she’s liked by quite a view movie-goers. Also, considering its vague superhero ties it must have seemed like a good bit of counterprogramming to release it during the Memorial Day weekend in the hopes that audiences would give it a go without reading reviews first. The studio not screening the movie for critics was a clever move…but only fanned the whiff of a turkey my way. When will they learn?