Softer than a baby’s blanky! More powerful than a lawnmower blade! Able to leap over sensible plot points in a single bound! Yeah, it’s Brightburn (2019)! I was super hyped for this film because the premise is such a compelling one. Unless you’ve avoided the major comic book heroes, you are likely familiar with Superman’s origin story: a baby sent to Earth from a dying planet who was fortunate enough to be found by an old couple who adopted him and raised them as their own wholesome son. But…what if that baby – who turns out to be one of the most powerful beings on the planet – wasn’t so wholesome?
Brightburn has cool scenes, but they’re connected by weak storytelling
In Brightburn, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) have had no success having children – but a spaceship crashes on their land, carrying their long sought after the little bundle of joy. Twelve years later, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is starting to go through changes and is questioning where he comes from. It is at this point that I have to decide what to omit as potential spoiler content, as the motivation for this darker take on Superman isn’t revealed in the trailers (although almost every other major moment sure is!).
My biggest issue with this film is the character motivations, and huge leaps in logic they often take. Basically, it’s the inconsistent plotting of the story that really wrecked my overall enjoyment of the film. There are scenes in Brightburn that want us to think Brandon turns to the “darkside” because he isn’t accepted by his peers. Then it almost seems to attempt to blame hormones for his lashing out, as though the whole film is just a take on “what if Superman really couldn’t handle puberty?” There are implications that Brandon is essentially a sleeper agent from whatever species he’d come from, and has been activated. It was painful to watch the movie not seem to know why we were going to get the cool scenes of superhero horror.
This inconsistency with why characters do what they do is actually pretty consistent throughout the film. Kyle, Tori, and Brandon are joined by Noah (Matt Jones) and Merilee (Meredith Hagner) at Brandon’s twelfth birthday dinner. Noah gets Brandon a hunting rifle, to which Kyle loses his mind. This is the first time Brandon apparently ever talks back and really disrespects his father, and it is a rather tense scene. However, this anger over giving Brandon a gun really doesn’t make sense, as we later see Kyle hunting. The gun doesn’t play a factor in the plot again, though it does show up several scenes later with no real purpose; this moment ultimately just feels like fabricated tension designed to show that Brandon has darkness lurking just beneath the surface.
Fortunately, the parts with Brandon going all sorts of evil are quite insane. There is a wealth of gore in this film, and much of it felt like pretty original set pieces. Much like old Jason movies got very inventive with the kill sequences, Brightburn is able to pose the question of how would someone with these kinds of powers (some of which are poorly defined in the film) murder people who he deemed unworthy of life. That’s not to say the way in which he handles things totally makes sense if you scrutinize for motivation, but they do work as horror elements. There was one moment that I could not watch, as it hit on a phobia so hard that I was genuinely squirming in my seat.
Despite my issues with the characters, I do feel that the cast did a great job. Dunn managed to be just charming enough that I could buy Banks and Denman denying some early warning signs. Dunn is then immensely creepy and manages to make the character seem suddenly much more in control when he takes on his new persona. I mostly like the costume design and the logo shown frequently in the trailer, despite it being another major plot point that is just stupid in the film. So stupid, in fact, that my friend and I looked at each other when it was brought up and laughed derisively.
Brightburn delivers some of what I hoped to get from this story and failed horribly with much more. It is one of those types of films where the potential for the premise I had in my head just didn’t come together on the big screen. I don’t think it’s a bad movie, but it clearly had so much room to be an incredible one that it is difficult not to be disappointed. Brightburn earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.