Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are a childless couple trying to get pregnant when an explosion rocks their farmhouse in Brightburn, Kansas. Investigating, they find what looks like a spaceship and inside is a baby boy. They raise the child as their own. When the boy turns 12, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) becomes more aggressive, overreacts to perceived insults from his schoolmates and talks back to his parents. Brandon is also hearing voices in his sleep. The voices are coming from the spaceship his adoptive parents keep under lock and key in the barn. At night, it glows and speaks to Brandon in an alien language. Brandon is also developing powers. He can fly, is incredibly strong and can shoot heat rays from his eyes. People around Brightburn begin disappearing and dying with a mysterious symbol appearing near each scene. Tori and Kyle are at odds over what to do about Brandon. And Brandon is continuing to learn about his powers and making plans for a possibly dark future.
“Brightburn” is the origin story of Superman if the last son of Krypton was a psychopath. There are so many similarities to Superman’s story I’m surprised Warner Brothers and DC Comics didn’t sue Sony and producers James Gunn and Kenneth Huang for copyright violation. Perhaps a deal was worked out quietly and in advance to prevent any litigation. However it happened, “Brightburn” features a superpowered villain in a world of mortals. That is perhaps both a strength and a weakness.
The special effects in “Brightburn” look great considering the film was made for a paltry $6 million. Granted, when Brandon uses his abilities, he is frequently only shown as a blur or in darkness. There are also a few effects that look flat or stick out because they don’t equal some we’ve already seen. However, the visuals in the film are mostly impressive.
Brandon’s heat vision looks much like Henry Cavill’s Superman. The beams are rough around the edges and have a similar appearance to flame throwers, but somewhat more under control. It is used in a couple of very sinister ways, once to open a locked freezer door as shown in the trailer, and once to kill a person.
There are some gory moments in the film. The scene in a diner where a woman pulls a shard of glass out of her eye is shown in the trailer, but there are a couple of other far gorier deaths in the film. One involves a car crash and the other is the heat vision death I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Brandon also displays one of his kills in a way that shows he’s proud of his work, but also shows he needs enormous amounts of therapy and should be buried up to his neck in whatever his equivalent of Kryptonite is.
Where the production clearly didn’t spend any money was on the spaceship Brandon arrived in. It looks like something you’d see at a carnival to promote a futuristic ride and slapped together from leftover parts. It is squat, round and bulbous with lights evenly spaced over its exterior. Think of a mushroom only less sleek. I don’t know why the ship looks so bad when everything else looks good.
“Brightburn” borrows some horror movie tropes. Brandon will appear in the background and then disappear. His impending evil is often preceded by sinister or tense music. He will walk through a room when his potential victims are unaware of his presence. Brandon also has a flat affect, showing no emotion when his parents are talking to him about a tragedy and hiding his true feelings to lull them into thinking everything is alright. With his sweet face and youth, Brandon is the ultimate creepy child once his true nature is revealed.
Brandon is torn between two worlds: The world of his parents and community in small-town Kansas, and the alien world he came from. While his human parents probably want Brandon to finish high school, go to college, get a good job, marry and have some kids, his alien parents or creators have a plan for him that is vastly different. Despite his 12 years of human upbringing, his alien programming is stronger, likely written into his DNA. He tells his mom he wants to be good, but his true nature clearly makes it easy for him to be bad. There are times he appears to enjoy inflicting pain and causing destruction. There are also times he seems to lose control and acts out of anger. Either way, Brandon is not on a mission of peace from his home world.
I would have liked to have seen a heroic counterpart to Brandon’s villain. Another alien baby that landed in another state and, when he or she comes into their powers, senses Brandon and the two battle. Maybe that’s slated for any possible sequels should “Brightburn” prove profitable.
“Brightburn” is rated R for language and horror violence/bloody images. A woman gets a glass shard in her eye and pulls it out. A classmate of Brandon has her hand broken by the boy in retaliation. A character’s car is picked up and crashed into the ground by Brandon, causing a gory and bloody injury to the driver. A deputy is beaten into a bloody pulp while the sheriff is blasted into small pieces. A character has a hole burned through his head by heat vision. A character is dropped from a great height to their death. A nude body is shown hanging on the wall with a large open wound in the midsection. There are also mutilated chickens. Foul language is scattered.
“Brightburn” could be the beginning of a dark superhero franchise, or it could be a one off. I see potential for expanding the story to include other alien super beings, both evil and good, but I can also see this tale being all the story that needs to be told. “Brightburn” is self-contained and gives the audience a peek at what follows the movie with some brief scenes cut into the credits. There’s also Michael Rooker portraying an internet conspiracy theorist warning the world of Brandon and other evil creatures that also sound familiar to well-known superheroes. That could be a tease for an expanded universe, or a button on a finished story. Either way, “Brightburn” is a good introduction to a super villain that left me wanting more…in a good way.
“Brightburn” gets four stars out of five.
Monsters, suspense and music will be filling screens at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Godzilla: King of the Monsters—
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