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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Brightburn movie review: villainy, celebrated

Brightburn red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Superman, but he’s evil. That’s the whole movie. This is a depiction of violent entitled sociopathy that may think it’s critiquing toxic masculinity yet is indistinguishable from a celebration of it.
I’m “biast” (pro): big fan of superhero stories; love Elizabeth Banks
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Superman, but instead of good, he’s evil.

That’s it. That’s Brightburn. That’s the whole movie. There’s nothing else. You know every beat it’s going to hit before it hits it. Exactly like THIS, but wait, what if it’s actually THAT.

Comet baby crash-lands on a farm in Kansas, gets adopted by a nice couple desperate for a child (Elizabeth Banks [The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, The Happytime Murders] and David Denman [Puzzle, Logan Lucky]), and later puberty hits and he instantaneously morphs from a nice wholesome kid into a violent sociopath. Sure, there’s something fantastically and anti-wishful-thinky about this movie, but it ain’t the alien superpowers that help the kid do bad stuff and prevent the humans from stopping him, or the little space bassinet Mom and Dad have hidden away in the barn that talks to him in a creepy alien language and tells him to “take the world.” No, it’s the idea that a boy needs alien superpowers in order to become a violent entitled sociopath with a particular hatred for girls and women. Cuz, like, that happens every day, no science-fiction intervention needed.

Brightburn Elizabeth Banks

I am not generally one to blame mothers for the sins of their children, for failing to raise them properly, but in this case, I might make an exception. Leave the alien baby in the woods for the wolves to eat!

I don’t know what the point of this movie is unless it is, in fact, a way for male filmmakers — director David Yarovesky and screenwriters Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn (as a team: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), who are, respectively brother and cousin to producer James Gunn; sweet gig if you can get it — to have fun exploring what it might like to be a 12-year-old boy (Jackson A. Dunn: Avengers: Endgame) who is able to fly into the bedroom of the female classmate he like-likes but who rejected him and creep on her while she cries in terror. Brightburn is one of those movies about which some people will insist, “Oh, it’s critiquing toxic masculinity,” except that — as ever — what we see here is indistinguishable from a straight-up celebration of toxic masculinity. Young anti-Superman Brandon Breyer does not wrestle with his violence impulses. He doesn’t fight them. (There’s room for a movie about that: What if you’re “meant” to be evil and you fight it?) He has no greater purpose about which we might debate the extremes of the methods he deploys to rectify a greater injustice. (He’s no Magneto. He’s not even the Joker.) He just indulges them to do as he pleases, which is to project his sulky adolescent rage on the world.

Brightburn is nothing more than a movie about superpowers untethered from morality and ethics. It’s the precise opposite of everything that comic-book philosophy has pondered. It’s a horror movie, but the horror here isn’t the intentional bloody gore, as Brandon goes a-rampaging. It is the unfettered embrace of evil as, you know, kinda cool.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other theatrical releases.



red light half a star

Brightburn (2019) | directed by David Yarovesky
US/Can release: May 24 2019
UK/Ire release: Jun 19 2019

MPAA: rated R for horror violence/bloody images, and language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong gory injury detail, violence, language)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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