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Superman lore radically reimagined in ‘Brightburn’

By: - Writing Editor
/ 12:25 AM June 01, 2019

Jackson A. Dunn as the powerful young alien

A horror reimagining of the Superman lore, “Brightburn” combines child-monster tropes with comic book sensibilities. It curiously asks, what if the alien baby found and raised by a human couple became evil?

What we get in “Brightburn” is a subversion of the familiar superhero character’s origin story, turned horrifyingly upside-down.

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Directed by David Yarovesky, the film is produced by “Guardians of the Galaxy” helmer James Gunn, written by the latter’s brothers Mark and Brian—and is inspired by countless comics about Superman, or his younger version in many timelines, Superboy.

But while there are initial similarities, this isn’t Clark Kent, and isn’t for kids. It follows Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn), who is nearing his 12th birthday. The boy, living in Brightburn, Kansas, seems comfortable with being adopted—which is actually a lie made up by his adoptive parents, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman). They discovered him unhurt in a wrecked spaceship over a decade ago.

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Brandon Breyer, in “Brightburn”

Brandon has grown up into a kind, sweet kid—until he starts sleepwalking, talking in a strange language and manifesting unbelievable powers.

While there have been portrayals of twisted Supermen before—an alternate-reality villain version (Ultraman), a psychopathic teenager (Superboy Prime) and the Kryptonite-altered film version (in “Superman III”), among others—“Brightburn” gives its main character an adequate backstory, a brutal origin that shocks from time to time, no matter how predictable it gets.

Child actor Dunn, whose soft features belie the terror his character is capable of, brings the two-faced creep factor, a key component in horror flicks with children as antagonists. Adding to his unsettling demeanor is a makeshift costume—he wears a red mask, a tattered blanket that looks like a cross between a scarecrow’s face and an executioner’s cowl.

Other fine portrayals, from the toned-down and camp-free Banks, to the gradually disillusioned Denman, help give the film a believable tone, although there really isn’t much to expect from these and other terrorized characters—most are potential prey here, with the proverbial clock ticking on them.

Elizabeth Banks (left) and Dunn

Violent rampage

The inevitable “switching” of the young alien to the other side isn’t given many surprises, apart from the violence shown in his rampage. Nevertheless, like other “demon” offspring stories from the genre, it becomes an aptly grim, if by-the-numbers routine of eliminating perceived threats.

But, it’s trying something else, too. While complete enough as a standalone story, it can potentially be a cinematic “universe,” as well, not quite like Marvel, DC or even “The Conjuring’s,” but something akin to M. Night Shyamalan’s relatively smaller “Glass” world.

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It’s an interesting mashup of genres that deserves to be explored and seen, a nice alternative to the mostly wholesome super-epics we’ve been exposed to lately.

David Denman (left) discovers Brandon’s (Dunn) strength.

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TAGS: Brandon Breyer, Brightburn, Superman lore
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