As the dad of a 12-year-old boy who will imminently turn 13, there was an element of “Brightburn” which struck a chord as Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) watch their beloved little dude turn into a sullen, moody and downright malevolent young man almost overnight. Of course, the wrinkle here is that their beloved son Brandon (Jackson A Dunn) is actually an extra-terrestrial foundling who crashed to earth years before, whom they adopted as they were unable to have children of their own.
If the marketing of the movie itself wasn’t clear enough, the movie itself is so heavy-handed with its foreshadowing of the doom to come that there’s little room for surprise. Essentially, “Brightburn” poses an interesting question: what if Superman, but evil? Now inherent to the Superman mythology is the fact he turns out good because he is raised by good people. “Brightburn” doesn’t put such an onus onto the adoptive parents of Brandon because no matter how they raised him, Brandon is genetically programmed to kill and destroy.
“Brightburn” certainly delivers on the promised darkness and has plenty of effective if unimaginative horror scares but for a film intended to subvert expectations, it sure as hell delivers exactly what you’ll be expecting. Because of that programming to kill and conquer, the character is robbed of any semblance of internal conflict. Sure, he may say he wants to be good – and does so in the trailer – but we know he has no choice and so the film becomes predictable. Having asked an interesting question, the film has no interesting answers and instead falls back on increasingly gory and violent set pieces as it ramps up the horror to comb over how philosophically thin it is on top.
Had it been a tale of absolute power absolutely corrupting an adolescent, it may have been able to deliver more surprises and packed more of a punch but instead, we get a Snyder-cut crowd-pleasing viciously nihilistic “We Need To Talk About Kevin of Steel” super-slasher movie. Perhaps the writers, in their eagerness to set up a sequel (teased in a mid-credits sequence) kept a little too much back to the detriment of this story but for all its clever visual allusions to Action Comics and the Superman mythology, this Brightburn origin story is too much smoke, not enough fire.