Bad Superman tale ‘Brightburn’ is not bright and left us feeling burned

Rated R: Horror violence/bloody images and language.
Playing at: Premiere Cinemas.
Credits: Directed by David Yarovesky. Screenplay by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn. Original music by Tim Williams.
Cast: Jackson A. Dunn, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jennifer Holland, Becky Wahlstrom, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, Gregory Alan Williams and Annie Humphrey.

Bill’s rating: One-and-a-half of five stars

The story pitch for “Brightburn” had potential.  Picture the co-writers, brothers Brian and Mark Gunn, asking a producer or story editor to sit back and consider two words: Bad Superman.

The real Superman, named Kal-El at birth, was sent to Earth in a small spaceship by parents Jor-El and Lara moments before his home planet of Krypton was destroyed. His ship crashed on Earth’s countryside; he was found and adopted by farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent near Smallville, a small town whose location never was clarified. Jonathan and Martha named their new son Clark Kent.

Now consider…

Having already learned that Tori Breyer (played by Elizabeth Banks) struggled with fertility problems and longed for a child of her own, the audience sees a foreign object crash on a Kansas farm near the small town of Brightburn. The farm belongs to Tori and her husband Kyle (David Denman), and they find a surviving humanoid boy child in the wreckage.

Considering him a gift from heaven, they introduce the child as their own. They name him Brandon.

Everything is fine until about 12 years later, when Brandon, now portrayed by Jackson A. Dunn, discovers puberty and his own potentially dangerous super powers at about the same time.

As Brandon grows more disrespectful, disobedient and defiant, he also begins sleep-walking.  A voice in his head apparently guides him to an area in the barn where his parents hid the original spacecraft.

The voice eventually teaches Brandon the phrase, “Take the world,” as a mantra.

It is one thing for pre-teen Brandon’s hidden papers to include photographs of lingerie ads and swimsuit models. Unfortunately, he also is drawing pictures of human organs and disemboweled women.

At some point, one might expect mom to raise a red flag.

Kyle worries as their neighbors fall victim to a series of suspicious, serious accidents. He attempts to remind Tori their son never has been sick, not even as a baby. Their child also never suffered from a cold, a rash or a broken bone.

Mom, however, steadfastly defends their son as a loving child incapable of being responsible for described incidents. And director David Yarovevsky bypasses anything resembling subtlety in hopes of escalating the fear quotient.

In the process, viewers cannot help but wonder why not one resident has come close to putting two and two together yet.

At the same time, Brandon has begun designing a bizarre costume. Having mastered the arts of flight and super-speed, he can travel long distances and commit crimes between bedtime and breakfast. He fills school notebooks with his experimental new signatures – inventing conjoined, back-to-back Bs which might stand for Brandon Breyer or Brightburn.

As deadly experiments escalate, the back-to-back Bs signature moves from being written in ink to being drawn with blood on cars, roads, houses and bodies.

With the film’s plot concentrating more on violence than the alien’s past, including violence against women, one wonders what attracted actress Elizabeth Banks to this project.

She has enjoyed repeated roles in the “Hunger Games,” “Pitch Perfect” and “Lego” franchises. To her credit, she gives another strong performance in “Brightburn” as a woman driven by maternal instincts. And while her character is extremely late in concluding she may have, despite every effort, raised a bad boy, she pays a horrible price.

Yarovevsky introduces violence as revenge.

The pre-teen Brandon has a crush on fellow student Caitlyn (actress Emmie Hunter), but has no idea how to proceed when she expresses fear of even touching him.

He is injured because she was too afraid to catch him in a trust exercise assigned by their teacher. Told to apologize and help Brandon to his feet, imagine the damage inflicted when he accepts her hand … and keeps squeezing.

Which is nothing compared to violence committed against adults who anger, betray or threaten Brandon.

For example, intent on wasting not one dime of his effects budget, the director provides a frightening image of a truck dropped from a great height – only to go overboard via the surviving driver’s injury.

Banks’ Tori may suffer the greatest punishment of all for her disloyalty; it could take an airline disaster to hide Brandon’s crime.

Much better cinematic potential is briefly demonstrated via a too-fast-to-determine attack on local law enforcement.

Unfortunately, while “Brightburn” opens in original fashion, the story gravitates to little more than derivative horror. More emphasis is placed on blood splatter than any thought-provoking exploration of a villain’s decisions or possible fate.

Gage’s rating: One-and-a-half of five stars

With the warm weather turning hot, and some of our leaves turning yellow, I assumed the quality of movies would change – and for the better – with summer barely a week away.

Movie fans experienced a mediocre spring. I genuinely looked forward to seeing what evil Superman – and by that, I mean the movie “Brightburn” – could and would reveal.

But now I feel like the unluckiest moviegoer on the planet, considering how much this movie disappointed me.

At first glance, it was intriguing, even a little entertaining. The finished product is anything but.

The concept was not awful; almost everything else in the movie is.

What happened? Well, the film falls apart from the start.

The story is boring. OK, maybe just a little slow at first, but it becomes progressively worse.

Once young Brandon Breyer, played by Jackson A. Dunn, begins acting out as a young, evil Superman, he is little more than a tease. After all, why stay in a small town? Why not zip off to a large city and start killing innocents there?  I’d wager Brandon could have been more terrifying.

Once again, the film’s trailer reveals almost everything in the movie. Such a shame. If moviegoers had not seen the trailer, more scenes might have been scary. We’ll never know now.

Filmmakers add gore to some kills. This time, I did not have a problem with it. When you see Matt Jones, as Noah McNichol, using his own hand to keep his jaw attached, the scene becomes as cool as it is disgusting. Some will be conflicted; others may hide the kick they get out of it.

We meet characters Tori and Kyle Brever, a couple desperately wanting to be parents. Then, almost immediately … say, what has fallen into our yard from deep space? And is that a child inside?

Raising Brandon Breyer, they come across like a real family for a while. At least until Tori (played by Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) pull a complete 180, changing from parental to irrational. Mom screams that Brandon would not hurt anyone, as though trying to convince herself, leaving Dad to tearfully act on perceived evidence. He’s never been sick, points out dad, and never suffered a broken bone or even a bruise.

Parents disagree to such an extent, and for so long, that viewers develop headaches just by watching.

Meanwhile, those who placed faith in “Brightburn” are left to check out upcoming releases. Which stories take a step up? Can we expect better films when promised a “Chucky” reboot and “Annabelle 3?” Aside from the next Quentin Tarantino project, can we boldly predict theaters will be filled with splashy, entertaining summer movies?

“Brightburn” might work better as a warning.

One hopes not. Regardless, we keep watching, waiting for more.