The subversion of superhero origin stories is the name of the game in the James Gunn-produced Brightburn. The elevator pitch is simple: what if Kal-El came down to Earth and ended up as a force for darkness and destruction instead of representing a beacon of light for humanity? Farm-dwelling Kent-surrogates (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) face this possibility when their adopted meteor baby Brandon (Jackson A Dunn) hits puberty and their otherworldly bundle of joy is less Superman and more The Bad Seed.
The marketing for the film gently cons the audience into thinking James Gunn might be behind the camera, but it’s David Yarovesky who directs, with Gunn’s brother and cousin on script duty, and the result is a mixed bag. On the plus side, Brightburn keeps things to a taut 90 minutes – a rarity when it comes to superhero movies – and also commendably earns its grisly R-rating by daring to go down the slasher route. However, it doesn’t use the svelte runtime all that efficiently, cramming far too much exposition into the final 15 minutes. The film ends up falling between two stools: it’s unsatisfying as a superhero myth riff, and while the bursts of violence are devilishly distressing, its horror potential doesn’t feel fully mined. You’re ultimately left with a predictable B-movie that frustratingly leaves its central protagonist by the wayside: Brandon is relegated to “creepy kid”, when he might have been portrayed as a tortured prepubescent whose dark fate beckons him nearer. His story culminates in a bizarrely cringeworthy end credits sequence, set to the tune of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”, in which we see Chronicle-style footage and news reports that introduce the idea that Brandon may not be the only malevolent superbeing out there. It’s hard to shake the feeling that more could have been done with such a neat, expectation-subverting premise in the first instalment, before its makers even contemplated widening the scope to a bad-egg universe.
Brightburn | Directed by David Yarovesky (US, 2019) with Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A Dunn. Starts June 20.
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