Brightburn has a premise that screams nothing but tremendous potential & promise. It takes the origin story of Superman, even walks us through the same path that previous iterations followed, and then makes a hard left turn by adding a wicked what-if twist that changes the whole dynamic of the character’s journey. This was a golden opportunity to subvert & deconstruct the character’s mythos by delving deeper into the superhero lore. An opportunity that ultimately goes to waste because the film never dares to go for it.
The story concerns a couple who encounter a mysterious baby boy in a spaceship after it crash-lands on their farm. Deciding to adopt & raise him as one of their own, the family lives an idyllic life for over a decade. But things begin to change once the young alien boy nears puberty and a set of events lead him to discover his otherworldly powers. Everything soon goes from bad to worse after he finally learns about his extra-terrestrial identity, begins exhibiting psychopathic behavior, and starts using his powers to terrorize his town.
Scripted by James Gunn’s brothers and directed by David Yarovesky, Brightburn has all the makings of a Superman lore gone dark & sinister but the movie as a whole doesn’t really live up to its promise. Despite treading all the familiar routes and setting up the premise aptly, the events play out like any conventional horror flick relying on ineffective jump scares & grindhouse effects. It is as if neither the writers nor the director realized what was up for grabs here, for they often hold back where they are supposed to go all in.
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Now I’m not saying that the film needed to indulge in city-wide destruction to deliver on expectations but if the intention was to keep things small-scale & grounded, there is still a lot that could have been done to take full advantage of its R-rating. The writing is all over the place. The dialogues are terrible, especially when the characters’ lives are at stake. And it would have only been more logical if his corruption & the evil deeds he ends up doing were a result of the unfair treatment he receives from all. What the filmmakers opt for instead is both nonsensical & unnecessary.
There is a bleakness to it that works in its favor but that dreadful, ominous mood doesn’t permeate the frames the way it should. There are times when the movie hurries through moments that required more screentime but then, there are scenes that overstay their welcome and could’ve used some trimming. Performances from all are serviceable at best, with Elizabeth Banks scoring higher than the rest. Timothy Williams’ score is a hit & miss. And Editing fails to provide a tightly-knitted structure to its 90 minutes narrative but at least the film is briskly paced, for better or worse.
On an overall scale, Brightburn gives the impression of a feature that was green-lighted by the studio on the strength of its comic-book concept alone. And though the writers were able to pitch the idea successfully, they still failed to fill up the pages of the script with a gripping plot & compelling characters. There are entertaining bits in the final print but it is scattered all over the place along with splashes of gore. Some will find it adequately enjoyable. Few may even admire its half-baked take on what Superman would be like in 2019 America. But there is also no denying that it could’ve been so much more than what it ultimately settles for. To sum it up, Brightburn boasts an all impressive premise of Man of Steel meets The Omen yet it doesn’t do anything productive with it.