Brightburn

Look, when I am writing a review of a movie, expect spoilers ahead. I am going to leave this here so that I do not have to constantly repeat myself in future entries.

Brightburn is a movie about a sort of alternate reality Superman. I could almost end the review there as the Superman story is one of the more familiar ones in Western culture, and a priori knowledge of it would tell you all you need to know of this bizarro-world version of it. Alien baby falls from sky, is named Clark Kent by his well-meaning Nebraska foster parents, and becomes the savior of the world. In Brightburn, alien baby falls from sky, is named Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) by well-meaning Kansas parents, and plots to become the evil overlord of the world. A mirror image, yes, but the comparisons do not stop with child-bearing meteorites or Midwestern corn fields. Both Superman and Breyer (they never come up with a nickname for the Kansas one) are impervious to nearly everything, can fly, are super strong, and shoot lasers out of their eyes. Not enough similarities? There is also the strange substance that is the weakness for both characters: kryptonite for Superman and the metal of the vessel that carried Breyer to earth.

Okay, so in Brightburn we have a Superman knock-off, and an evil one at that. Yet the main focus of this film is on the relationship between Brandon Breyer and his mom, Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks), and to a lesser extant his dad, Kyle Breyer (David Denman). Underpinning the whole movie is a tension, triggered by Brandon’s twelfth birthday and puberty (as all things are), as to how this kid was going to turn out. Clearly there is something different about Brandon, and for a brief moment early on you feel some sympathy for him because he is bullied at school. Having received such treatment myself at a young age, I wanted him to get some sort of recompense for the wrongs done to him. His adoptive parents stick up for him at first, and until things start going off the rails, the Breyers provide a good example of how to parent. But then Brandon sticks his hand into the propellers of his lawnmower.

Yes, you read that right. The moment in Brightburn when Brandon starts taking his first steps towards becoming a monster comes when he finally discovers that he actually is quite different. So how does this hormonal boy handle his newfound gifts? Not well. He decides rather quickly that he will rule the world. To be clear, I do not mean the sort of abstract, Saturday morning cartoon, villain of the week style of global domination, but a clear commitment to subjugate all people under him. His intentions are driven home as when he relates to his school counselor, Merilee McNichol (Meredith Hagner), that “Sometimes when bad things happen to people, it is for a good reason.” Cute kid, huh?

Mom and dad remain somewhat dismissive of Brandon’s actions, explaining them away as “it’s just puberty,” though dad is the first to break with his desire to help his adoptive son. Yet he is taken care of after a disastrous attempt to blow Brandon’s head off with a rifle while hunting, an act that results in having his skull lasered through. Mom takes longer, but her failed murder ends with her being dropped from somewhere in the stratosphere. With these events Brightburn raises an age old question: what ultimately wins out, nature or nurture? In this movie, it is clearly nature. Tori displays a patience worthy of any the Church’s saints, and she dies a martyrs death in attempting to stand up against what turns out to be pure evil. Seemingly no amount of nurture would ever be able to cure Brandon Breyer.

I applauded the efforts of Tori Breyer in trying to stick by her sons side, and right up until the end of Brightburn she is protesting her love. Her and her father were at least two characters I could relate to, at least in terms of the strong devotion they showed for their troubled son. Yet the movie is flawed, deeply so, and its flaws are also why Superman really does not work when you think about it critically. Here is a suggestion for both stories: when a meteorite lands and a lifeforms comes out of it, call the police!

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