In this superhero-crazed society where beloved Marvel and DC icons have a firm stranglehold over box-office revenue, it’s no surprise that David Yarovesky’s Brightburn, a new horror-twisting bend to the genre, was green-lighted and rushed into production as a massive money-grab. And with a perversely misleading marketing ploy that’s been throwing James Gunn’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) name around in order to lure fanboys into the theater, it’s not all that surprising to discover Gunn’s overwhelming lack of involvement in the film. Yes, his brother (Brian Gunn) and cousin (Mark Gunn) are the masterminds behind Brightburn’s gripping and original premise, but outside of a ceremonial producer’s credit and a time-consuming lap around the media circuit to draw publicity to the film, James Gunn’s fingerprints couldn’t feel further away from this superficial and emotionally devoid superhero origin story.
What if Superman had discovered his otherworldly powers and decided to do harm rather than good? That’s the primary idea behind Yarovesky’s Brightburn, a film that follows a loving couple (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) struggling to conceive a child. Yet, their prayers are answered when a meteor strikes in the woods beside their home and the couple find a lost infant that they raise as their own. However, all the love in the world can’t stop Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) from using his special abilities in sinister ways that eventually brings devastation to the family’s small Kansas town.
Brightburn represents the frustrating outcome of when a creative premise becomes terribly mishandled and there is plenty of blame to go around. Let’s begin with the film’s script. Brian and Mark Gunn’s initial idea is actually a golden one. And the thought to capture their villainous origin story through a horror-movie lens is risky, but still clever and original. Yet, Brightburn’s natural progression through its story fails to build authentic characters and never appropriately justifies their actions or motives. This brisk 90-minute journey feels as constricted and glossed-over as its running time would suggest. And to compound this issue, relying on a cast of virtual unknowns also proves detrimental. The acting was distractingly bad at times. Not to the point of complete disarray, but ineffective enough to warrant a mention. Consequently, this leads to a bitterly disappointing finale, one in which Brightburn’s intended emotional conclusion never fully packs the punch we so desperately deserve. However, we can't ignore that hidden beneath this messy screenplay and wide collection of sub-par acting talent there resides a worthwhile story. But it's one that David Yarovesky and company fail to bring to life.