Brightburn a tepid, missed opportunity

When you have to write stories on a consistent basis for the same character, you’re bound to run out of ideas.  After cranking out tales for Batman, Spider-Man and their respective stable of characters for over 20 years, DC Comics and Marvel Comics both ran into this problem and handled it in similar ways.  The writers at DC would pen what was referred to as an “imaginary story” (as if they ALL weren’t imaginary stories!), while Marvel created a series called “What if…”  These issues featured alternate takes on their heroes’ histories and powers and proved a pleasant enough diversion for readers while buying some time for the writers to come up with something fresh.

David Yarovesky’s Brightburn is an imaginary story with a simple twist – “What if…Superman was bad?”  It’s an obvious wrinkle in the superhero mythos and what with the superhero genre becoming the tail that’s wagging the dog that is the international box office, it makes sense that a subversive feature of this sort be made.

The script by Brian and Mark Gunn, brothers to producer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), wastes very little time in setting up its premise.  Within the first five minutes, it’s established that Kansas farm couple Kyle and Tori Breyer (David Denman and Elizabeth Banks) have been trying to have a baby for years and that their prayers are answered by a wayward space ship containing an infant crashing on their property. The story then leaps forward 12 years with their adoptive son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), on the cusp of puberty.  As the pre-teen’s body starts to change, his latent powers begin to emerge and before you know it, he’s displaying inordinate strength and the ability to fly.  The problem is, he’s using these abilities in disturbing and violent ways.  


Yarovesky sets all of this up quickly and efficiently, yet once the premise is established the Gunns give him little to work with.  As Brandon’s powers grow and the adults in the small town begin to investigate the many odd circumstances that are occurring in their midst, all the kid is concerned with is keeping his secret under wraps.  When his aunt and uncle threaten to expose him, death soon follows, a fate he also visits on the mother of a young lady he has a crush on.  (She’s made the mistake of telling him to keep his distance after a very disturbing encounter with her daughter).  Basically, the movie ends up being about a bratty kid who’s worried about being told on.

With a modest budget of $7 million, the scope of the story is obviously limited.  Yet, there are many narrative threads, as well as character background, that could have been explored that would have expanded the story in a meaningful way.  Instead, Yarovesky opts for scenes that rely on gore and violence to engage the audience in a more base and obvious manner.

As evidenced from an inspired scene that comes during the closing credits, in which veteran actor Michael Rooker appears as a conspiracy theorist who refers to other characters like Brandon who’ve appeared across the country, the Gunns have world-building on their minds.  It’s unlikely Brightburn will pull in enough at the box office to justify a franchise being made under this banner. However, if this were come to be, let’s hope they devote more time to letting us know why these malevolent characters tick instead of just reveling in the mayhem they create.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at koplinski@usd116.org.

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