'Brightburn' is a delightfully wicked supervillain origin movie you didn’t know you needed

Sony PicturesHe may share some similarities with Clark Kent, but Brandon Breyer is no superhero.

  • Brightburn” is a superhero horror movie in theatres Friday from Sony Pictures.
  • From producer James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), the movie asks a simple question. What if a super-powered child who crashed to Earth became a villain instead of a hero?
  • The “what-if” horror movie flips the superhero genre on its head delivering the supervillain origin story you didn’t know you wanted.
  • The film feels like an anti “Man of Steel” and contains a few very violent scenes.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

What if Superman was evil? That’s the basic premise of the deliciously wicked and unforgiving “Brightburn” in theatres Friday.

After his 12th birthday, Brandon Breyer’s parents recognise he’s going through some changes and they wish it was puberty. Slowly, Brandon starts to realise he has super strength, a thirst for blood, laser vision, and the ability to fly after a mysterious darkness awakens inside of him.

Instead of harnessing his powers for good, the misunderstood outcast of Brightburn, Kansas uses his powers against anyone who upsets him, looks at him funny, or is just against him. The James Gunn-produced horror thriller flips the superhero model on its head to deliver a fresh entry into the genre. If you’re expecting a hero film or a happy ending, that’s not this movie.

Why you should care: It’s from “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, his brother Brian, and cousin, Mark, and is an anti-Superman movie.

James gunn brightburn setBoris Martin/Sony PicturesProducer James Gunn on set of ‘Brightburn’ with director David Yarovesky.

“Brightburn” is the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise director James Gunn was going to show off at San Diego Comic-Con last year. Then he was fired by Disney for old, controversial tweets. (He was recently rehired.) At the time, Gunn abruptly canceled a panel for a mystery film and went silent across all social media platforms. No one knew the Comic-Con panel was to debut Sony Pictures’ “Brightburn.”

Gunn didn’t direct “Brightburn.” He’s a producer on it. His brother, Brian Gunn, and cousin, Mark Gunn, wrote the film directed by David Yarovesky (“The Hive”). While he wasn’t behind the camera, Gunn told USA Today the movie was “a great help” to him after the Disney firing last summer. People he considers good friends and family worked on this film alongside him. Elizabeth Banks, who plays Brandon’s mother, is one of Gunn’s longtime friends and starred in one of his early films, “Slither.” His pal Michael Rooker (who played Yondu in the “GotG” franchise) appears in a cameo.

Jackson A. Dunn, who you recently saw briefly play a 12-year-old Scott Lang in “Avengers: Endgame,” plays the film’s supervillain. “Brightburn” doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a direct homage to Superman. It makes it very clear the film is about a Clark Kent-type who’s sent to destroy the Earth rather than protect it. Like Supes, Brandon crashes to Kansas in a spaceship, is raised by two loving parents on a farm, and finds himself with superhuman abilities. He also has his own red cape.

Wait. Can they even do this? Won’t Warner Bros. be mad?

Even if Warner Bros., the studio which puts out Superman movies, has beef with Gunn’s “Brightburn,” it’s probably isn’t going to do anything. Gunn is currently working on a superhero movie for them, 2021’s “The Suicide Squad.”

What’s hot: Dunn is frightening and creepy as a potential superhero gone awry. The film isn’t afraid to hold back and because of that fearlessness it doesn’t deliver a half-baked “what-if” story.

Brightburn movieSony PicturesGunn delivered exactly what he promised with this one.

According to press notes, the original premise of “Brightburn” was supposed to be a “slightly more modest take” on the “what-if” superhero story. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Anything less would have felt watered down and a bit of a cop-out, pandering to a worried studio. Instead, the Gunns and Yarovesky go all-in on the premise and the result is an unexpected, thrilling, and sometimes hard-to-watch supervillain origin.

“Brightburn” contrasts perfectly with Zack Snyder’s take on Superman, 2013’s “Man of Steel.” If you’re a fan of Snyder’s film, you’ll notice some of the shots early on of the farm and the Breyers’ mailbox give a direct homage to “MoS.” As Forbes’ contributor Josh Weiss pointed out, that’s not the only parallel. The second “Brightburn” trailer used the same font as the Superman origin story.

Man of steel brightburnWarner Bros./Sony PicturesThe first image is from a ‘Man of Steel’ trailer. The latter comes from a ‘Brightburn’ trailer. See the similarity?

“Man of Steel” isn’t a critically beloved film, but one Gunn has said he enjoyed and one that INSIDER was a fan of for its honest take on what it would truly be like to be an alien on Earth discovering he has powers like X-ray vision. In short, it would be terrifying. In “Man of Steel,” those are powers that scare and frighten both Clark Kent and his family and he’s encouraged to hide them from the world.

Now, picture that same young boy without fear or emotion who uses those powers willingly for pleasure. Those same powers, in turn, would be terrifying to normal people. That’s what “Brightburn” digs into. What would an anti-Kent look like? The answer is unsettling, unpleasant, and a reminder of why we need heroes.

That exploration leads to some terrifying and difficult moments where the young boy chooses to kill several people in gruesome and unexpected ways on his mission to take over the planet. At least three scenes may be difficult to watch for some because of the violence. At one point, INSIDER turned away as the camera focused intently on a woman pulling a shard of glass from her eye. That moment is teased in one of the film’s longer trailers.

Elizabeth banksSony Pictures‘Brightburn’ uses the colour red to great effect as seen in this shot with Elizabeth Banks above. Red becomes associated with Brandon’s character. He has a red mask, cape, shoes, and notebook.

Dunn does a great job of convincing you he’s an evil demon spawn. He comes across as unfeeling and unflinching. His blank stare sears through you. In press notes, Yarovesky said he was inspired to film Brandon as John Carpenter would film Michael Myers in a “Halloween” movie, from afar without him moving to give off a creepy vibe. This is best used to great effect when Brandon is seen hovering outside others’ windows in the dark or appearing quickly in the background before disappearing. Since he has super speed, it’s not clear where he’ll necessarily lurch out from next.

Brightburn brandon truckSony PicturesHere’s one of those horror scenes Yarovesky was talking about on display.

It’s not all about death and destruction. The film navigates the hardships of raising a difficult child and what the best course of action may be to help them. Do you discipline them, seek a counselor, or turn a blind eye to what may be going on? Banks is convincing as a mother who refuses to believe the worst in her son and tells him she’ll defend him to the ends of the Earth. Of course, that only lasts until she starts to see through her son’s lies.

What’s not: If you’re hoping for explanations on where Brandon gets his powers from or his actual origin, you’re not really going to get any.

Brandon mask brightburnSony PicturesBrandon’s still a bit of a mystery to us.

It would have been nice to know a bit more about Brandon’s origins and his people. Throughout the film, he hears mysterious whispers and it’s presumed that some sort of dark spirit joins itself with Brandon in his sleep one night, awakening his primal instincts and turning the once sweet and caring boy into a power-hungry and ruthless killer.

Where’s Brandon from and why does his race want him to take over the Earth? Perhaps Sony is saving those answers for a potential sequel. The end of the film suggests there may be more villains out there.

Bottom line: If you’ve been craving an R-rated supervillain origin movie, this is it.

Brandon brightburn movieSony PicturesHonestly, this film would have worked if it was a part of the DCEU and was a Bizarro origin story. (Bizarro is villain who is essentially a Superman clone.)

A supervillain origin story seems like such a simple idea given the amount of hero films we’ve had over the past decade, but neither Warner Bros. nor Marvel Studios has had the guts to do it yet. WB will finally get around to giving the Joker one in October. Until then, “Brightburn” is as close as you’ll get. (We’re not counting 2016’s dreadful “Suicide Squad.”)

If you’ve been craving an R-rated supervillain movie that doesn’t hold back, this is it. Original. Grisly. Unrelenting. “Brightburn” is an excellent flip on the superhero genre. If you didn’t like “Man of Steel” or find it tough to watch violence, this probably isn’t for you.

Grade: A-

“Brightburn” is in theatres Friday. You can watch a trailer below.

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