Brightburn
Get ready for a superhero horror film! (Illustration by James O’Toole, Grand Valley State University)

Despite his proven success with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” duology, actor, director and producer James Gunn has entertained a rocky relationship with Hollywood as of late. After the reemergence of some of his old controversial tweets, Disney was quick to sever ties with him. Though Disney has since taken him back as the director for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” you can’t help but wonder how much his stint outside the superhero establishment influenced his upcoming film, “Brightburn.”

Work on “Brightburn” began shortly before his firing, but the extent to which his attitude toward making a non-affiliated superhero film changed in the process has yet to be seen. Before I start breaking down what’s known about the movie, I am obliged to offer a spoiler warning for those who have managed to evade the trailer in their YouTube suggested feed.

As a presumed stand-alone film — depending on the outcome of the movie, a new superhero universe independent of the DC and Marvel juggernauts might exist — “Brightburn” is very much an unknown in a genre that heavily draws inspiration from decades of comic-book source material.

The project emerged as the brainchild of Gunn, his brother Mark and his cousin Brian, the latter two being responsible for the screenplay. Gunn himself will serve as producer of “Brightburn.”

Directing the movie is David Yarovesky, who teamed up with Gunn to produce the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. Yarovesky was the 2011 winner of the Newport Beach Film Festival award for outstanding achievement in short filmmaking for “Ghild,” a short film that runs only 14 minutes.

“Brightburn” portrays a storyline superhero fans are indelibly familiar with: an alien spacecraft carrying a single infant crashes into the grounds of an isolated Midwestern farmhouse. The child (Jackson A. Dunn), was raised by the pair of loving parents who discovered him, Mr. and Mrs. Breyer (David Denman and Elizabeth Banks). However, he soon discovers that he possesses powers and abilities far outside the bounds of normal humanity.

The Superman parallels end there.

Instead of portraying the overdone story of Kal El, the altruistic Kryptonian who became Superman, “Brightburn” paints a significantly different, darker story, one that plays with the horrifying idea of an evil Superman.

The rest of the trailer sees the horror of the situation realized, as the bullied kid, Brandon Breyer, devolves into an amoral terror free from the confines of a conscience. His powers, an almost perfect representation of Superman’s, manifest, and the true nature of the movie as a horror film is cemented.

The graphics, tone (until the sudden horror shift) and even lettering of the first two “Brightburn” trailers are eerily similar to those of “Man of Steel.” GlareBox has helpfully compiled a full side-by-side viewing of the trailers.

One of the leading stars of the movie, Banks, already had rapport with Gunn after being featured in his 2006 horror installment “Slither,” which went on to receive middling reviews. In the trailers, the Ma Kent-esque character seems to be the only person who still believes in the good nature of Brandon by the end of the film.

Her husband, played by Denman — who avid Netflix users will recognize as Roy Anderson from “The Office” — does not carry the same confidence in their adopted child. As he says in the trailer, “He’s not our son!” If “Brightburn” follows a generic horror formula, it will come as no surprise if Mr. Breyer does not last the duration of the film.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s tired formula has been stagnating, so it should pay attention to upcoming features such as “Brightburn,” a necessity reinforced by the overall tone of the second trailer. The Gunn family project has an opportunity to circumvent the perils of a classic paragon story and write its own rules. Be it a flop or an Oscar-winner, one thing is certain: the future of the superhero industry will go as the movie goes.

One of the major misconceptions “Brightburn” has faced has come from its title. Many well-wishing cinephiles, perhaps tracing a connection between the consonance of “b” in “Brightburn” and Brandon Breyer, have asserted that the boy’s superhero name is Brightburn. While it still might hold water, most believe it to be an inconsequential comparison, as the trailer reveals that the story takes place in Brightburn, Kansas, a fictional city. Theories are still developing for why the film is named after a place and what significance to the story it bears.

Fundamentally, Brandon’s attire differs from the iconic Superman tights. Even then, similarities can be drawn between the two. Looking at Brandon with his mask on, you can still see the trademark red in his maroon mask and cape and blue in his striped shirt. His character design is undoubtedly an homage to Kal El, and it makes clear that the film wants you to be thinking about the “Superman” story during its runtime.

Perhaps the most unique element of “Brightburn” is the symbol that Brandon perpetually draws: two stacked diamonds speared through by a line. Much has been made of the image, with fans wondering if there’s a connection between the picture and other franchises, such as “Bloodborne” and “Berserk.”

The rune’s exact nature is unknown, but from the looks of it, the symbol, instead of being a representation of hope, is a catalyst for Brandon’s devolution into an apathetic killer. He draws it everywhere he can, from his notebook, which also contains a startling depiction of him in his mask being exalted above others, to a plane he presumably brought down.

Originally, “Brightburn” was slated for release on Nov. 30, 2018. For any number of reasons, no doubt including Gunn’s Disney drama, the film has been pushed back and will now hit theaters Friday, May 24.

In conclusion, I suspect that “Brightburn” might fall prey to some of the traps and pitfalls that the horror genre is laden with, but will still offer a repurposed superhero — or, perhaps, supervillain — origin story that will carry fresh air to a bloated industry. If done right, “Brightburn” could make a fascinating psychoanalytic study or biographical criticism, what with Gunn’s Hollywood drama. Whether it makes a good movie, however, remains to be seen until late May.

Till then, sweet dreams and don’t let the Superman bite.

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