Brightburn review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
My issue with Brightburn is not that it’s merely divergent for the sake of being divergent. It’s that the film didn’t have to be so base on its super-simple concept of “what if Superman was bad?” DC would dare not produce such a story for the big screen as that very story of Red Son would most likely face a lot of heat in the current climate. And so we have a superhero horror picture not based on any previous property with a super-fresh director at the helm. For what could’ve been a unique perspective on superhero movies that could use a good deconstruction, Brightburn burns out any of that appeal rather quick.
The story is exactly what it sounds. Brandon is an alien baby who crashlands in Kansas. A couple takes him in and raises the boy as their own. When he comes of age, they discover the boy has powers of super-strength, super-speed, flight, and heat vision. Superman stuff. But when he finally comes to realize his true origins, Brandon decides to use these powers more for evil than good. This isn’t a superhero film; it’s a horror film.
I refer to the film more as horror than superhero because in terms of deconstructing superheroes, Brightburn would rather stew in Brandon becoming a murderous psychopath with quality kills than tap into anything grander. Maybe the film didn’t desire such goals and just wanted to pose scenes of Superman using his heat vision to kill. Okay but it sure seems like a waste in the current crop of superhero films that Brightburn is little more than slight subversion. Yes, I know that “evil Superman kid kills” is such a solid sell that the film could’ve literally been called that and garner some excitement. The problem is that it’s little more than that.
But Superman going bad is nothing original, in any medium. I already mentioned Red Son in the comic books but there are plenty of other scenarios. In animation, you can find the finale of Superman: The Animated Series to not only showcase Superman being corrupted but questioning how much trust be can be lost from such a path. In film, the latest iteration of Superman has appeared as a destructive monster in three films, both intentionally and unintentionally. So this very concept isn’t all that unique, especially when its intent seems more about how cool it would be to watch Superman powers being used in an R-rated horror environment.
There’s also a very insidious intent with how Brandon goes down the dark path. It doesn’t seem to be out of any conditioning for the world around him or bore from social ills. No, Brandon apparently seems to have been bred to be a planet-destroying maniac and fulfills this destiny. This lack of questioning such programming creates a very toxic distance from the themes where racism seems to come across in how Brandon asserts his genetic superiority. Even for a superhero horror film, this unconscious commentary is not what I expected or wanted or needed.
Brightburn is an empty experiment. A subversion of divergence disguised in style over substance. Superhero and horror films deserve more than the surface-level blend of a picture that seems to take cheap advantage of the superhero cinema landscape than say anything of value about the moral flaws within the hero structure. And if the film really didn’t want me looking at it in this light, maybe it shouldn’t have put an ubermensch easter egg in the picture.