The story of Superman is one of the most well-known superhero origins to ever be told. An alien baby crash lands on Earth and learns the value of humanity, thanks to the love of his supportive adoptive parents. Despite having the power to destroy the world, Clark Kent uses his abilities to save people and becomes a symbol for hope.
And then a film like Brightburn comes along and asks the question “what if Clark Kent was a psychopath who decided to use his powers to do whatever he wanted?” Inverting the Superman trope into something far more sinister, Brightburn mashes together horror and comics into a film that brings a new dimension to the superhero genre.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Brightburn follows the life of a 12-year-old boy called Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn), who isn’t exactly like the rest of the people in his town. Raised on a farm by adoptive parents, Brandon comes to realise that he has special abilities, which leads to a change in behavior. Concerned, his parents try to reach out to him, but Brandon becomes more disobedient.
Tori (Elizabeth Banks), Brandon’s mother, decides to tell him the truth about how he crash landed in a space ship when he was a baby. Feeling betrayed, Brandon lashes out and believes his purpose is to “take the world.”
What follows is a gorefest that sees Brandon turn from creepy kid with teenage angst to full-blown superpowered serial killer. But it’s not all chilling stares and angry screaming from Dunn. He does a good job of portraying Brandon’s vulnerability, and there are certain points where you can believe that he has a chance at redemption.
Elizabeth Banks’ performance is also praise-worthy for the level of emotion she brings to her role. She captures the anguish of a mother struggling to believe that her son can do anything wrong. This is especially true during the latter half of the film, where the bodies are stacking up and she’s forced to come to terms with the fact that Brandon might be beyond saving.
For all of Brightburn’s promise, there’s a sense that it doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. The film never gives a concrete reason for why Brandon’s behavior changes so drastically. Perhaps this was due to the movie’s short run time of 90 minutes, but if Dunn had more material to work with, I feel he could have made his character more complex and compelling.
With that said, the amount of subversion in the film is sure to please viewers who have become bored with the typical superhero origin story. Brightburn has the bleakest ending for a comic film I’ve seen since Avengers: Infinity War, which makes it more entertaining.
Some people aren’t born to be Superman. Some are born to be monsters. Those stories need to be told as well, and Brightburn succeeds as an alternative take on The Man of Steel mythos.