by Philip Price
Director: David Yarovesky
Starring: Jackson A. Dunn, Elizabeth Banks & David Denman
Runtime: 1 hour & 30 minutes
“Brightburn” is one of those movies where you immediately recognize the potential from the premise alone. It's one of those ingenious ideas where it's hard to believe someone hasn't thought of it already. The cause for skepticism with such premises though, is that the execution of story around this initial idea might not live up to the possibilities the premise promises. For the record, I love the James Gunn-produced, Elizabeth Banks-starring “Slither” from 2006 and so to hear Gunn was producing from a screenplay by his cousin, Mark, and brother, Brian, with Banks returning for their first collaboration since that film would be enough to excite me regardless of the premise, but upon hearing the idea for the movie I was even more interested and intrigued by where this might go.
The default is that this is the opposite story of the Superman origin-the "what if" of Clark Kent having gone in the opposite direction of "truth, justice, and the American way," but what “Brightburn” insists on really being about is the "what if" of Kal-El landing in Kansas today, in present day 2019, rather than in the 1938 post-depression, pre-World War II America.
While director David Yarovesky (“The Hive”) along with his pair of Gunn family screenwriters are willing to go to the darkest possible recesses this premise might suggest and therefore be genuinely shocking in certain moments, “Brightburn” never feels as if it really delves into its base idea with any real depth. Rather than leaning into and exploring the type of or lack of nurturing given to Brandon Breyer (a somewhat stilted Jackson A. Dunn) that crafts him into this super-human creature who uses his powers for evil instead of good we simply bear witness to the kid doing creepy things for half an hour in a handful of different scenarios before feeling completely in control of his abilities and going batshit with them. Sure, he's bullied a little and his father (David Denman) is a little too quick to set boundaries on his "unconditional love", but we never get to the root of why Brandon leans towards using his power to solely hurt bad people rather than hurting bad people in order to help good people. There are pieces of the story - Banks' arc especially - that deal in loving something so much to the extent they're blinded by how bad it is for them, but while “Brightburn” has a lot of interesting ideas it doesn't exactly have interesting ways of discussing those ideas.