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Friday, May 24, 2019




Stranger Visitor From Another Planet

James Gunn and David Yarovesky's Brightburn sticks to that old adage of stage and screen: If you introduce a rifle in Act I, that rifle will be fired at the head of a 12-year-old alien lunatic by his adoptive father in Act III - and do no harm at all. But the same can't be said for what the boy does to him in retaliation.

Like a Marvel "What If?" tale, Brightburn retells the oldest story in superhero fiction from a horror point of view. Stop me if you've heard this one: a Kansas couple, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer, want to have a child and their wish is granted when a spaceship carrying a baby crashes outside their farm. The couple hides the spaceship and raises the child, whom they name Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) as their own. They love him, care for him, but he's different and he's bullied by kids at school. Then, on this 12th birthday, the alien ship they hid in their barn glows red and calls out for Brandon in an alien language, ordering him to "take the world!" Brandon, who has never been hurt or sick in his life, gains even more powers: now, he can fly, is super strong, super fast, invulnerable, affect nearby electrical devices, and he can fire Heat Vision from his eyes.

The obvious conclusion is that with these awesome powers, Brandon dedicates his life to truth, justice, and the American way goes completely apeshit and starts murdering people and destroying things. He massacres the chickens in his family farm. He stalks and injures the prettiest girl in school, Caitlyn Conner (Emmie Hunter) - which isn't too far from what Brandon Routh's Man of Steel did to Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane in Superman Returns, to be honest, although Superman had the courtesy not to be seen or break her hand. When his parents or his school tries to discipline him, he boasts that he's "something superior" and makes veiled threats. And he murders, boy howdy, does he murder! Brandon likes to learn about human anatomy and doodles grosteque drawings about what he's gonna do to people - and then he does them. Brandon murders Caitlyn's mom Erika (not unlike how Henry Cavill's Man of Steel murdered the African warlord at the start of Batman V Superman) and opens her up from the inside out. She also gets a shard of glass in her eye in a funhouse mirror homage to when a bullet bounced off of Superman's eye in Superman Returns.

As Brandon keeps on murdering, donning a scary red hood and cape that accentuates his horrible red, glowing eyes, his mom Tori goes out of her way to defend him, despite his transparent lies. Meanwhile, his dad Kyle is not so sure about him anymore and the guilt they have of never telling Brandon about being from outer space bears down on them. When Tori finally confesses to Brandon that he's not really their son, his violent, incensed reaction is the polar opposite of how Clark Kent always took the news that he's from Krypton. And the creepy alien voice from his spaceship is no Marlon Brando or Russell Crowe. There are themes of nature vs. nurture in Brightburn and Brandon occasionally expresses he wants to be good, but they get swept aside every time he loses his temper and the urge to kill rises - which is constant. Brandon also understands branding; he draws up his own logo and leaves it in blood at his murder scenes.

Eventually, there's just no talking to Brandon anymore and Kyle decides there's only one course of action left: take his son hunting and then shoot him in the back of the head. It doesn't go well. One of the clever bits of Brightburn is the casting; Dunn is suitably creepy and vicious as Brandon and Banks is excellent in the Martha Kent role, but casting David Denman is a masterstroke because of how much he evokes a bearded Ben Affleck. When Brandon realizes Kyle tries to kill him, Brightburn pushes the Knightmare scene in Batman V Superman where the Dark Knight is held prisoner by a fascist Superman to its most horrible conclusion. In a lot of ways, Brightburn is the Superman horror story Zack Snyder was always teetering on making (and reportedly wanted to go all-in on in his aborted concept for Justice League) before saner heads prevailed.

Finally, Brandon stalks and destroys his Kansas farmhouse and the sheriffs who have come to arrest him. Tori realizes Brandon is a super killer and goes for the one thing proven to hurt him, a shard of metal from his spaceship, but she fails to pull a Jon Snow on Brandon's Daenerys Targaryen and, like Robin Arryn, Brandon makes his mother fly. There's also a concluding bit involving an airplane that's reminscient of something similar that happened at the end of Chronicle, another tale of a teenage superpowered maniac. 

Brightburn does feel a bit slight when it comes to answers and it holds back from going deeper and fully exploring the menace that is Brandon Breyer, but for the Superman-derived horror it's trying to accomplish, it's efficient, effective, and very well done. There's also amusing set up for a sequel by talk show host Michael Rooker screaming about Brightburn, as this new super villain is called, as well as other menaces like a "half-human, half-sea creature" and a "woman who chokes people with a rope", so good, there's gonna be an evil Justice League. And, ironically, there's far more likely to be a Brightburn 2 than a Man of Steel 2 or a Justice League 2.