”BRIGHTBURN”

Mash up “Superman” with “The Omen,” and you’ve got the elements of “Hive” director David Yarovesky’s “Brightburn” (**** OUT OF ****), co-starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, and newcomer Jackson Dunn.  No, this isn’t your ordinary, standard-issue, run-of-the-mill, superhero ‘origins’ saga, since our hero amounts to an anti-hero.  Nevertheless, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” scenarists Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn have patently recycled the basics of “Superman,” but they have turned everything upside down for something radically different. Meantime, despite its grim finality, Yarovesky has presented this bizarre material with style, irony, and gore.

If you’ve ever rooted for evil supervillains to triumph when you knew they never could, “Brightburn” is a breath of fresh air!  Clocking in at a meager 91-minutes, this atmospheric but larger-than-life yarn generates enough atmospheric dystopia and ambiguity to keep you captivated. In a typical Hollywood release, the villains are doomed always to destruction. Such is not the case with “Brightburn.”  Mind you, “Brightburn” is no “Avengers: Infinity Wars.”  Indeed, “Brightburn” is neither a Disney/Marvel release nor a Warner Bros./DC Comics release.

Interestingly enough, James Gunn—who helmed the two “Guardians of the Galaxy” extravaganzas—served as producer, while Brian and Mark are two of his three younger brothers.  Altogether, “Brightburn” clashes with the cultural imperative that all superheroes must defend the rights of the weak and the innocent.  By the time you finish watching this R-rated movie, you may wonder if it isn’t a fluke of nature.  Do the filmmakers plan to pursue a franchise?

And if so, who will they conjure up to pit against their youthful villain?  Some hints about the future can be found at the end of “Brightburn” as an unhinged YouTube conspiracy theorist (Michael Rooker) rants about government efforts to cover up the appearance of two enigmatic superheroes, vaguely similar to DC’s Aquaman and Wonder Woman!  Believe me, you’ve never seen anything like “Brightburn.”  This low-budget, $6 million adventure has already coined twice its budget!

Kyle (David Denman of “Logan Lucky”) and Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks of “The Hunger Games”) are a married couple who desperately want a child, but they have had no luck.  One evening when they are trying again to impregnate Tori, they hear a loud smashing racket, and something in the woods surrounding their farm bursts into flames.  The next thing we know the Breyers are shooting home videos of an adorable infant that survived the crash of an unidentified flying object.

After adequate voice narration about their new addition, “Brightburn” makes a giant decade-long leap, and their adopted son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn of “Avengers: Endgame”) finds himself in junior high school and on the verge of puberty.  Brandon is kind of a know-it-all nerd who alienates himself quickly from his classmates when he provides ad infinitum answers to his science teacher’s questions.  Initially, one of his other classmates, Caitlyn (Emmie Hunt of “Forever My Girl”), tells him smart guys finish first.  Things between these two youngsters, however, don’t go as planned.

Brandon lives with Kyle and Tori on a farm.  In fact, they live in Kansas, but we never see them actually farming.  Kyle raises chickens, and he owns a vast amount of acreage.  They have a sprawling barn with two silos, but we never see them herding livestock.  Meantime, Kyle and Tori have made the barn off-limits to Brandon because he could hurt himself playing in there.  Secretly, they have stashed the weird spacecraft that brought him to Earth in a cellar in the barn.  Tori loves Brandon with all her heart and soul, while Kyle is struggling still with fatherhood.

At one point, to alleviate Brandon’s own sense of horror about life on Earth, he feeds him candy, and it calms Brandon down.  Until he has trouble cranking up a lawn mower, Brandon has lived a relatively normal, down-to-Earth life.  When the lawn mower doesn’t crank, he experiences an unusual fit of rage and hurls the machine like a javelin into the sky.  The mower flies about a half-mile before it plunges into a field.

Brandon rushes out to inspect it.  Ironically, the mower lands upside down, so its single blade is seen whirling in a visible blur.  Strangely enough, Brandon thrusts his bare hand into it, and the blade abruptly stops turning with a screech.  The youth examines his hand and cannot believe the blade didn’t rip a hole in it.  Thereafter, things take a turn for the worse not only for Brandon, but also for the unsuspecting residents of the sleepy town of Brightburn.

Brandon begins to behave rebelliously, especially after he is dazed during a game concocted by his P.E. coach.  This game has children standing in a small circle, while one remains at the center of it.  The point of the exercise is to forge trust.  Everybody pushes the classmate in the center back and forth, and the child  learns to trust his school mates, because nobody is going to break the circle.  Ironically, Caitlyn breaks the circle, and Brandon falls and bumps his head.

The coach (Terence Rosemore of “Triple 9”) threatens to flunk Caitlyn if she doesn’t give Brandon a hand up.  Although he doesn’t appear injured, Brandon grasps Caitlyn’s hand, twists, and then breaks it.  Naturally, Kyle and Tori are shocked, while Caitlyn’s mom, Erica (Becky Wahlstrom of “Lucky 13”), insists that Sheriff Deever (Gregory Alan Williams of “Hidden Figures”) clap him into cuffs.  Later, after the school counselor, Merilee McNichol (Meredith Hagner of “Hits”), discovers that Brandon feels no remorse for his rough treatment of Caitlyn, she starts to worry.

Literally, all Hell breaks loose, and Brandon shows us he can fly, emit sizzling beams from his eyeballs, and is impervious to a .30.06 rifle bullet when it is fired at close range at his head.  “Brightburn” is devoid of any shred of sentimentality.  The protagonist is evil from the get-go, and he doesn’t let anybody off easily when they oppose his wishes.  Somewhere in another superhero universe, “Superman” should be worried. To check out more great movie reviews click here: https://theplanetweekly.com/category/entertainment/

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