What if Superman was a bad guy?
It’s actually an age old question that has been explored in comics books over the Man of Steel’s existence, most recently in Tom Taylor’s exceptional Injustice series, along with Mark Waid’s excellent BOOM! series, Irredeemable, featuring a character inspired by Superman who goes bad in a big way. While we may never see Superman go evil in a blockbuster film (the closest we’ve come is following his resurrection in Justice League), writers Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn, along with producer James Gunn and director David Yarovesky, have gotten as close as possible to that storyline with Brightburn.
The movie, set in the small town of Brightburn in Kansas (where else?), finds a couple (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) struggling to conceive. One night, a meteor lands in their backyard, carrying a child who they quickly adopt as their own.
Sounds familiar, right?
Twelve years later, Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) seems like a normal pre-teen, but he soon discovers that he’s not like other kids. He’s super strong and can’t be hurt. And he’s not from around here. It’s that information, kept from him by his well-meaning parents, and the power of what is buried in the family barn, that leads Brandon to discover that not only is he special, he’s “superior”.
And then things get bad. And gory.
There’s a lot to like about Brightburn. For comic book fans, seeing a “what if” story unfold before our eyes is exciting and unique, and for the most part it works. Brandon starts off as a sweet kid, and feels understandably betrayed by his adoptive family for keeping a monumental secret from him. While we never learn where Brandon is actually from, the minor hints of his origin work, as it becomes clear that wherever it is, its inhabitants weren’t the benevolent scientists of Krypton.
The performances from all three leads are solid, and the film only loses its footing when it relies on some of the usual horror tropes and poor decisions that characters in genre flicks make. Those momentary lapses of logic can be forgiven though, especially when Brandon unleashes his full power on the unsuspecting people around him. Superman always reigns in his powers. In Brightburn, Brandon does the exact opposite, and there’s lots of blood left in his wake.
As a fan of superheroes and horror, I thought Brightburn does a solid job of melding the two into something we haven’t seen before on the big screen. It’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Clark Kent Gone Bad big screen, and it delivers that concept well.