There have been many takes on “What if Superman was a bad guy?” over the years. With Ultraman leading the Crime Syndicate, communist dictator Superman, and Nazi Superman just to name a few. Even Marvel’s version of Superman, Hyperion, had a backstory that was a take on the problems that would be a child with super powers. What makes the movie interesting isn’t just that it takes a horror movie perspective on things but that, specifically, James Gunn’s particular ability to both parody the source material but still feel somehow reverent of it.
The origin story here is almost a direct mirror of Superman. A couple living on a farm in Kansas can’t have a baby and then a spaceship crashes and they find a baby boy inside. They adopt him and he gets an alliterative name, Brandon Breyer. In this story, however, Brandon doesn’t get powers until around his 12th birthday when his spaceship starts to glow and he hears voices in an alien language. After that night, he is changed both physically and mentally. He not only has powers far beyond that of mortal men but he seems to lose all sense of remorse or empathy, believing himself to be superior to all around him. Now, if things don’t go his way, he has the power to make them change in the deadliest way possible.
I love me a good comic book movie and I especially love a good alternate universe story. There’s nothing here that is going to be particularly shocking or innovative. It’s what it says on the tin, “Superman but he’s an evil little boy.” If you go in wanting that and not having any expectations of more, then this movie delivers in spades. Jackson Dunn, the kid playing Brandon, does a great job of being the shy, nerdy, Clark Kent-esque student and the start before becoming this cold, emotionless murderer that only cares about himself. There are also some fantastically gory sequences in this movie, so if excess blood and guts are a deal-breaker then maybe give it a pass.
The various nods to Superman are interspersed throughout like the pens Brandon using in his notebook being red and blue, his “cape” actually being his baby blanket, and his first big, public display of power is downing a plane (rather than saving one like in Superman). There’s a fun little bit at the end that is probably a Spoiler so I’ll go ahead and give the bold text now. After he ends up killing his parents, we get an end reel of various news clips showing Brandon, now dubbed Brightburn, flying around causing havoc. Then we get Michael Rooker as an Alex Jones-like conspiracy guy talking about a fish-man overturning boats and a Witch Woman strangling people with rope. I love that it sets up the evil monster Justice League as a good right at the end.
Score: 4.5 out of 5. This is exactly the type of movie that manages to appeal to several of my favorite things. I definitely understand it not doing well because, well, how many other people out there have the overlapping interests of comics, graphic horror, and alternate universes? Definitely a hoot to watch if you’re into those, though. If you liked Slither, you’ll probably like this.