SUPERMAN is arguably the most popular fictional character in the world. Everyone, regardless if from The Big Apple in America, the slums of Chennai City or Santa’s Castle in the North Pole, is probably at least vaguely familiar with The Man of Steel. We know that he dons a cape, can fly, runs faster than a speeding bullet, is completely bulletproof and until 2013, wore his bright red underwear on the outside.
If you’ve watched his movies or read any of the comics, you know that he’s kind, noble, incorruptible, a mild-mannered and selfless boy scout, and a symbol of “Truth, Justice and the American way”. He’s everything we aspire to be and more. The Red-Blue Blur is ever willing to dive headfirst into battle and save innocent lives, regardless of how dangerous it might be. And he does so time and time again despite not having to or technically even being one of us. And that’s perhaps the most interesting aspect of the character — he’s an alien.
While his powers are biological — a fruit of nature — his personality and humanity is a consequence of nurture. Just as Planet Krypton was about to meet its impending doom, Jor-El puts his baby son in a small spaceship and sends him to earth. The ship crashes on a farm at Smallville and the baby is taken in by Jonathan and Martha Kent, an affectionate couple who sees Joe-El as a gift from God. Their kindness and selflessness rub onto him and when his powers start to develop, Pa and Ma Kent teach him to use it for good.
But what if things have been different? What if Clark Kent grew up feeling that he was far superior to the rest of humankind. What if Clark Kent turned out to be a selfish and entitled little prick? What if Clark Kent felt that his Godly powers meant that he could enslave us all? David Yerovesky’s Brightburn asks you: What if Superman was evil? This is a cracker of a conceit for a superhero horror film. A riveting spin on an iconic character, one that could make you reevaluate everything you know about The Metropolis Marvel. Unfortunately, writers Brian and Mark Gunn (James Gunn’s brothers) take a great idea for a psychological horror film and reduces it to a slasher flick.
Brightburn isn’t an investigation of ‘nature vs nurture’. Brandon Breyer (this universe’s version of Clark Kent) doesn’t become evil because he has abusive and alcoholic parents. Pa and Ma Breyer played by David Denman and Elizabeth Banks are an exact replica of the Kent parents — sweet, loving and caring. The film also glazes over the bullying dished out by Brandon’s douchebag classmates. In fact, early on in the film, Brandon actually befriends a cute girl who compliments his nerdiness and smarts.
In a baffling creative decision by the writers, Brandon Breyer turns pure evil after getting possessed by his spaceship. It’s a story beat that feels silly, easy and aggressively ordinary. What a letdown. The transition from a kind-hearted young boy to a blood-lusting psycho killer happens quickly and without emotional gravitas. But perhaps the point was never to be a heartbreaking, get-under-your-skin, horror-drama and just a straightforward gory slasher. While that may cause some of us to react like how we do when we excitedly order the new burger from McDonald’s based on how luscious and juicy the image on the menu looks like, only to receive a dry and flat bummer in a box, the movie still could’ve worked. After all, 1978’s Halloween offers a spine-chilling, toe-curling experience.
Director David Yarovesky deserves props for the creativity and explicit brutality of the kills in the film. Some of it will make the smashing of Oberyn Martell’s head in Game of Thrones look tame. Like the one scene where a character’s jaw is hanging loose and drenched in blood. But the gore is not what I go to these movies for. I go for the thrills and Brightburn regrettably doesn’t offer much in that department. The sequences lack build up, rhythm and a strong sense of atmosphere.
What kept me from dozing off was the performances. Jackson A. Dunn, who made a quick cameo in Avengers: Endgame as young Scott land, is solid as Brandon Breyers. There’s a level of creepiness he brings to the character, even when he’s seemingly good that makes it easy to root against him. But it’s Elizabeth Banks and David Denman that held the film together like plaster and cement. Not only charming and warm, Banks and Denman also displayed a flair for humour and great comedic timing.
So, Brightburn isn’t terrible. In fact, it isn’t even a bad movie. It has enough to put big fat smiles on the faces of slasher junkies who would find joy in watching a woman pull glass pieces out of her eyeballs. But for a film that marketed itself by asking ‘what if Superman was evil?’ Brightburn is profoundly disappointing.