Brightburn: Why James Gunn's Sinister Superboy Turns Bad


WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Brightburn, in theaters now.

Brightburn doesn't try to hide that it's an even dark take on Zack Snyder's divisive Man of Steel. Director David Yarovesky and producer James Gunn explore what would happen if the farm boy wfrom outer space became a villain instead of a hero.

However, as the film progresses, we see the kid in question, Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn), doesn't turn evil out of the blue: He's the product of an alien program that engineered him from birth to be a weapon.


Brandon's ship crashes in Kansas, where he's discovered by the Bryers. It's effectively life on the Kent farm thereafter. He grows up helping his father Kyle (David Denman) repair tractors while trying to be a good son to his mother, Tori (Elizabeth Banks), and grappling with his social awkwardness and supreme intelligence.

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From the trailers, it may have appeared as if this Smallville-style life was too boring for Brandon, and he decided to reject his moral compass in exchange for some excitement. But that was merely clever marketing, because Brandon's discovery his powers and his descent into villainy were always meant to be out of his control.

The teenager starts developing seizures and hearing voices in an alien language. He even begins to sleepwalk, and sleep-fly, awaking in different locations around town with no memory of how he got there. Once such experience lands him outside of the bedroom of his crush, Emmie Hunter's Caitlyn, which leads him to be labeled as a freak. As he wrestles with his newfound powers, word of his "stalking" spreads around school, and the reactions of his classmates begin to chip away at Brandon's well-being; day by day, the bullying contributes to the fracturing of his mind.

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As the voices in his head grow louder and fiercer, we realize it's the work of a dark overlord who's corrupting an unsuspecting and initially innocent Brandon. But as the darkness seeps in, the boy begins to draw gory scenes that show his sadistic side. He lashes out violently at friends, family and classmates. However, that aggression stems from the entity that's basically possessing him, unlocking his potential to become a weapon of mass destruction.

It's all too clear when we see him scrawling the Brightburn symbol he devised onto almost anything he gets his hand on; it's a mark of war. At this point, Brightburn doesn't even feel like a sci-fi story, as Brandon appears to be experiencing something similar to a demonic possession. He reaches his breaking point when his parents tell him the truth about who he is after he's drawn to the barn at night. With that moment of realization, Brandon makes his final steps down the dark path.

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Knowing how he broke Caitlyn's hand in school after she and her friends taunted him, and taking into account how her mother and other parents chided him for his outcast behavior, Brandon finally embraces the concept of the "other" and lets the being take hold. The boy still has control of his own actions, but he now has a devil on his shoulder, pushing him to commit the most heinous of acts.


That descent was inevitable, of course; he was engineered to become a beacon of chaos. The teen even admits later on, when he speaks in his native tongue and bits of English become intertwined: He was planted to "take the world" as a sleeper agent.

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Brandon had no clue when he'd be activated and, as his infection is complete, the shunned boy jumps headfirst into enslaving the Earth, starting with his podunk town. His journey begins by seeking revenge on the people who vilified him, and the parents who feared what they couldn't understand. In that sense, as much as he was created to be an extraterrestrial weapon, the sad truth is Brandon was inadvertently transformed into a killer by the townsfolk he grew up around.

Directed by David Yarovesky, Brightburn is produced by James Gunn and written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn. The film stars Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Steve Agee, Becky Wahlstrom and Stephen Blackehart.

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