Brightburn (2019) Review
EVIL HAS FOUND ITS SUPERHERO
The idea of superheroes has always been a point of fascination with comic books lovers, examining the many lives of fictional comic book creations through either gadgets and robotic mechanics or endowed with superhuman abilities from experimentations or gifted from birth. What’s become more apparent (over the years) is with these comic book superheroes is in the psychology mind frame that these individuals have and / or develop to what makes them do what they do. It’s question that many have pondered over in dissecting the overall “good conscious” aspect (i.e. appealing the human nature) of standing for the injustice of the world’s evil or just simple having the “god complex” (i.e. a more malicious belief of superiority) in making humanity bend to a person’s god-like wills. Of course, Hollywood has taken a interest in this duality of superhero psychology within various endeavors on both the small screen, including TV shows like Heroes, Gifted, Legion, and The Umbrella Academy, and the big screen, including feature films like Chronicles, the Unbreakable trilogy (Unbreakable, Spilt, and Glass) and the X-Men film series. Now, Sony Pictures (Screen Gems) and director David Yarobesky present the latest superhero tale with the movie Brightburn. Is this different take on the superhuman origin narrative worth a look or is it just disappointing feature that fails to deliver on its twisted aspects?
Dealing with the hardships of infertility for a long time, Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) have their prayers suddenly answered when an alien spacecraft crash lands on their Kansas farm, carrying a humanoid infant inside its vessel. Raising the child as their own, Tori and Kyle try to give their son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), a normal and comfortable life, watching him grow into an intelligent youth. However, on 12th birthday, things began to change for Brandon, who’s instinctually drawn to the crashed ship buried underneath the Breyer’s barn, connecting to a malevolent force within, with the young adolescent quickly discovering his newly found powers of great strength, flight, and heat vision. Unable to control himself during this period of change, Brandon gives into the darkness, fitting himself with a mask and cape and seeking revenge on those who’ve slighted or threatened him. While Kyle recognizes this brewing evil within Brandon, Tori can’t condemn the child she wanted so badly, unwilling to the accept the horrific reality of Brandon’s murderous rampage.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
What makes superhuman person good or bad? What makes a person a hero / good guy versus a villain / bad guy? These are age old questions that many (including myself) have muddled over and ponder upon certain characteristics the fictional world of superheroes and supervillains. As I pointed out above, comic book characters have evolved over the years and fully understand them (character backstory and human psychology) have become a point of magnetism for many out there. Personally, I think it’s definitely something worth examining and its discussion (as a topical debate) is really something to be fully considered in good, bad, and indifferent aspects. Of course, Hollywood has posed that question many times in various TV / film projects; mostly those revolving around superhuman architype characters that have examine duality nature of these individuals by disclosing the merits of being good and having compassion / mortal compass as well as benefits of being evil and having venomous / superiority towards to inferiors being (i.e. those without superhuman powers). There’s plenty of examples, but (at least to me) the best one of this is in the M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy, which examines the reluctant hero, the tragedy of villain, and the brilliance of mastermind manipulator.
Naturally, this concept idea brings me back to talking about the movie Brightburn, a subversive superhero tale on this exact question of mortal judgement within a superhero. To be honest, I don’t exactly remember hearing about this movie until the film’s first movie trailer appeared online. Like its marketing campaign wanted to achieve, I would’ve looked over watching the trailer until I heard that director James Gunn, the mind behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (of which I personal love), was acting as producer for the film. So, I decided to check it out and I was really kind of intrigued by the film’s premise (i.e. the whole Clark Kent / Superman persona upbringing gone wrong). From that point on, I was definitely curious to see this movie, hoping that it would add a new layer to the recent trend of superhero endeavors, especially with the cinematic endeavors from Hollywood. So, I went to see Brightburn a few days after its theatrical release; eager to see how this “twisted” tale of alien boy with superhuman abilities would be presented and overall executed within the film. So, what did I think of it? Well, it was rather good. There were a few problems in its storytelling composition, but Brightburn serves as interesting mashup of the horror genre to the superhero origin tale premise that provides to be a creepy wicked good time. It’s isn’t groundbreaking material for either film genres, but its setup narrative piece definitely works for the feature’s entertainment value.
As mentioned above, while the movie might think you that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn is directing this movie, he actually only as the film’s producer. Instead, Brightburn is directed by David Yarovesky, whose previous directorial works includes several projects including shorts like Ghild and Korn: Hater as well as the movie The Hive. Given the fact that his past endeavors as a director have been rather small and / or unknown (in mainstream mediums), Yarovesky makes Brightburn his largest and most ambitious directorial project to date. To be honest, he actually does do a rather good job in helming this movie; making Brightburn have one foot in the superhero genres (i.e. following closely to the origin tale setup / premise of Clark Kent / Superman) as well as the gruesome violence found in horror movie. While the two movie genres have been proven to be successful is almost a rarity that they would be brought together for a feature film endeavor. This, of course, is the premise of Brightburn, with Yarovesky showcasing the “birth” of a superhero (or rather supervillain) and the visceral horror elements that he causes throughout the movie. Yarovesky definitely does a good job in the horror department by presenting several scenes in brutal fashion that truly made me squirm in my seat. Heck, I even closed my eyes at a few parts because it was a bit too much. Thus, horror fans out there will like Brandon’s powers in the movie. Also, the feature’s runtime is only 90 minutes long. Of course, there’s a certain “double edge” sword when making the movie’s runtime that short (more on that below), but given what’s presented in the movie, Brightburn is very much a “breezy” endeavor that tells its story and gets out quick (easy enough) without leaving much unanswered questions and / or unfinished side-stores left dangling.
The film’s script, which was penned by James Gunn’s brother and cousin (Brian and Mark Gunn), showcases a very unique and intriguing concept to toil around with. Of course, that concept idea being if a super-powered human (similar to Superman) didn’t ended up as a noble and heroic being with a mortal compass and used his recently awakened powers to a more sinister approach towards everyone. Basically, that’s Brightburn’s approach as well adding the context of a horror feature of Brandon’s newly awakened power as well as the “shock and awe” from his parents (and how they deal with the situation). To be honest, the film’s subtext message for us (the viewers) is quite palpable and poignant. What do I mean? Well, how many of you would follow the role of the Clark Kent persona if we learned that you had discovered superpowers within our 12-year-old selves or would you use our powers to exact revenge on people who bulled us or disliked. It’s definitely meaningful question to ponder as many (despite being wanting to do good) would probably choose the latter….and that’s kind of scary to imagine.
Given the fact that the movie has a low production budget, Brightburn’s technical presentation is actually quite impressive. Again, the film’s budget is anything close to a blockbuster production, but I personally feel that the feature’s budget was wisely spent and utilized smartly. Of course, one can obviously see where the film’s budget limitations stretch to (loosing what ultimately could’ve been if the movie had a more money in its production), but Brightburn works within those confines in a well-mannered way. Given the Superman upbringing influence of an origin tale setting for Brandon, the movie’s usage of a rural Midwest setting is perfect realized in the story, especially in the Breyer’s house, which is situated on a farm. Additionally, the cinematography work by Michael Dallatorre does provide some slick and creative shots within Brightburn, which definitely adds a certain flair within both its superhero / horror genres. Where a lot of the film’s production money went into was probably in the visual effect shots, which are actually pretty good. Yes, they won’t rival a standard summer blockbuster, but the CGI effect shots (most of which showcases Brandon’s powers) are rather good and never feel blotchy or dicey in presented on-screen. Plus, the film’s practical make-up team for a lot of the horror aspects should also be commended for the brilliant work in the movie. Lastly, the film’s musical score, which was composed by Tim Williams definitely has that classic superhero motifs (soft and inspirational melodies) as well as the commonplace suspenseful music spurts of horror tensions.
There are a few problems that I had with Brightburn that, despite its good setup premise, hold the feature back from reaching its full potential. Perhaps the biggest criticism I have about the movie is that the film lacks substance in certain areas, especially in the psychological understanding or even storytelling narration of a wholesome depiction in showing Brandon’s “turn to the dark side”. Of course, the film’s script does give a reason for Brandon’s sudden turn towards evil (i.e. an ominous alien voice emanating from his spaceship), but it just seems like a “easy way out” for the Brightburn’s narrative to present the character of becoming evil. Thus, the film’s script fails to examine the very crucial “turning point” of a superhuman individual on whether he becomes good or bad by either inner desire or exterior forces that aid in that transformation. The setup is there, but the Gunns’ shaping of the script doesn’t fully explore that notion; choosing more of a “plot point” idea rather than showcasing Brandon’s transformation on his idealism towards being evil…. which is a bit disappointing.
Another issue with the film is that the movie doesn’t really explore certain aspect beyond the initial setup. Again, what’s presented is good enough, but the movie never delves into the implications of a superhero (like Superman) could be become, if his purpose and identity would become more maleficent. Because of this, Brightburn isn’t as groundbreaking as it could be; failing short of being a dark superhero or rather a supervillain origin story. Perhaps the reason for this is that the film is a low-budget production? Or maybe its because of the script handling in its development stages? Or maybe even it’s even in the directorial work of Yarovesky? To me, I think it’s a combination of all three of those criticism points as the feature’s ambition (both storytelling and cinematic representation) is definitely, but the overall scope of Brightburn and how the story circumnavigates everything comes up short; restricting the movie in its parental theme and superhero psychological composition aspects. This is what I mean where the film’s short runtime is a “double edge” sword type thing as the film could’ve been easily expanded upon in many different areas. This also results in the movie being predictable once the initial awakening of Brandon’s powers…. meaning that the film is formulaic into a horror feature endeavor; atypical for the genre. That’s not to say that the movie is fun in its story’s progression, but nothing really comes as a surprise (if you know what I mean). In short, Brightburn’s weakness lies within its own story and the potential could’ve had in examining a young superhero’s duality of examine his capacity for love and compassion in becoming good or hate and sinister in becoming bad.
The cast in Brightburn is rather a small one, with an only a few recognizable faces from the actors and actresses that play the film’s various character. Although, despite some of these being unknown or not as famous in Hollywood’s elite inner circle, all of their acting talents are well-represented in the movie and definitely elevate their characters in making us (the viewer) believe in their individual characters (be it major or minor). Of course, the main character (both protagonist and antagonist) of the feature is in the character of Brando Breyer, who is played by young actor Jackson A. Dunn. While many viewers might recognize him from a small cameo appearance in Avengers: Endgame, Dunn, known for his roles in Legendary Dudas and Shameless, does make for a creepy (yet really effective) job in playing Brandon in the movie. He definitely looks and acts the part in being an awkward (yet kindly soft spoken) 12-year-old boy at the beginning of the film that progressively changes into something more twisted and sinister.
Who’s the really “big star” (or rather the “big ticketed” star) of the film is actress Elizabeth Banks, who plays the role of Tori Breyer (Brandon’s adopted mother and wife to Kyle). Known for her roles in the Pitch Perfect series, The Hunger Games saga, and Invincible, plays the role in great and sympathetic way that makes the character the emotional crux of Brightburn’s story. Bank’s acting talents are showcase justly in making her character of Tori to be the nurturing and caring mother, who (despite all the bad things that Brandon is starting to do) still believes in that he is a good kid. In addition, the character of Tori has the most emotional heart; displaying a parent worst nightmare and the ultimate decision that might come to pass if Brandon’s rampage doesn’t subside. Thus, Banks acts as the veteran anchor of the feature and does so with a strong performance in Tori.
The last of the three is the character of Kyle Breyer’s (Brandon’s adopted dad and Tori’s husband), who is played by actor David Denman (13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and Power Rangers). To me, Denman did an impressive job in the role of Kyle; acting as the more “rational” one between him and Tori in how to deal with Brandon’s powers and his sudden aggression. He’s sort of like the “voice of reason” of which Tori is blind to see and that definitely works for what the movie wants (and needs) by examining the comparison of what Brandon (his son) is becoming and what should be done. Plus, Denman definitely fits the classic “dad” role perfectly (i.e. physical appearance and tone of voice), so it’s quite easy to immediately buy into his performance as Kyle Breyer.
With the film focusing primarily on those three leads characters, the rest of the cast in Brightburn are delegated to supporting roles that fill out the rest of the various characters that the Breyer family come into contact with. This includes actress Meredith Hagner (Search Party and Men at Work) as Brandon’s aunt Merilee McNichol, actor Matt Jones (Mom and The Night is Young) as Merilee’s husband Noah McNichol, actor Gregory Alan Williams (Remember the Titans and Greenleaf) as Sheriff Deever, actress Emmie Hunter (Forever My Girl) as one of Brandon’s classmates Lucy, actress Becky Wahlstrom (Joan of Arcadia and Grey’s Anatomy) as Lucy’s mom Erica. Collectively, these characters are, more or less, plot devices, playing the minor character roles in the feature with a touch of stock-like roles. Still, this grouping of actors and actress get the job done in the movie in their particular roles and help Brightburn’s on-screen characters.
Evil has found its superhero within 12-year-old Brandon Breyer (and he’s not here to save the world) in the film Brightburn. Director David Yarovesky latest film sees the classic superhero origin tale, but goes terribly awry when the individual becomes filled with evil and malicious intent; setting off a chain of events that become his parents worst nightmare (as well as those who get caught in the crosshairs of what befalls the Breyer family). While the movie lacks substance in superhero understanding and does follow a formulaic / predictable path, the film finds successful grove with its darker horror elements (using the superhero powers of Brandon to frame the story) as well as a strong representation of its characters from its cast, especially in Dunn, Banks, and Denman. Personally, I liked this movie. It could’ve been better in exploring the psychological mythos of a superhero (choosing to be good or bad), but for what it’s worth…. I was fine with how the movie turned out and what exactly what I expected it to be. So, my recommendation for this film is favorable “recommended” as I’m sure it will please the moviegoers who are interested in seeing this cinematic mashup. The big question now….is Brightburn the start of a new superhero horror cinematic franchise (the movie hints at potential spin-offs and sequels) or is it just a “one and done” endeavor. It’s hard to say, but James Gunn has stated that he would like to do more. So, there’s a possibly that the dark superhero tale of Brandon Breyer isn’t quite over. However, as it stands, Brightburn offers solid horror elements, a decently enough superhero origin tale, and an unapologetic entertainment blending of its two genres for a gleefully dark turn of a superhero.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: May 24th, 2019
Reviewed On: June 2nd, 2019
Brightburn is 90 minutes long and is rated R for horror violence / bloody images and language