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Brightburn asks a critical question.

What if Superman was not a good person? What if he did not take to our moral values?

The film then proceeds to give us the answer predictably - he kills lots of people. For a film that wants to get serious about comic book scenarios, it manages to neglect what sociopolitical impacts there would be in the case of an alien living among humans.

It is obvious why Superman movies and comic books are not as interested in these subjects. They merely want us to witness how awesome a super-human being is. But Brightburn had the opportunity to see matters from a different perspective and acknowledge the fact that the arrival of a being such as Superman, however nice he may be, would likely have horrific consequences on the institutions and psyche of a species that has gotten used to believing that nothing in the universe is more important or powerful than them.

The film stars Jackson A. Dunn as Brandon, a teenager that looks, walks and talks like a teenager. But he is not. He had dropped from the sky into Brightburn, Kansas, just close enough to a couple that was trying to conceive. Luckily for Brandon, they were also naïve, or just plain insane, to take an alien child into their home, and for the authorities to let them adopt it although no one knows where he came from.

Ten years pass by without anyone the wiser of the fact that Brandon never gets sick or injured, and things start to change. Brandon begins to realise he has powers, super strength and speed, flying, invincibility and shooting powerful lasers out of his eyes - the whole nine yards of Superman’s almost Godly powers.

But, skirting tradition, he does not become a superhero. He has a thirst for blood and world domination like a mad scientist. He does not bat an eye at killing people left and right in the ghastliest manner possible.

The movie might have as well ended right there and then. That was all the thematic and character development its lazy writing was willing to give audiences. The film delights in perverting one superhero trope but crams into its running time every horror movie cliché it could find.

A major opportunity was missed here. Instead of posting a mere “what if”, it could have been about puberty and the challenges of modern parenting, themes barely explored in this film. Brandon could have been made older than 10, and this film could be about how complicated growing up can be in a world that does not understand puberty.

Brandon is like every other teenager, suddenly hateful of society and his parents and suddenly obsessed with women. The difference between us and him was that he had the powers to carry out his misguided plans.

Sure, he seemed a little weird in this movie from the beginning. But which teenager with super-human strength would have had the self-control not to fling a bully into the sky?

This is a kid, to begin with. Of course, he would become drunk on power - even the grownups rarely manage not to indulge themselves in this manner. There is no reason for him to be depicted as inherently bad when we know that teenagers are too idealistic and uninformed to ever be trusted with this much power.

Brightburn could have as well explored how modern parenting works. Children are not to be spanked anymore, which, even if a good thing in the long term, does lessen the disciplining capacity of parents. Children are also empowered by virtue of having platforms that allow them to speak out as well as expose them to the grownup world to a degree never before seen.

Modern parenting is very democratised as a result. This is a good thing, but it is also tasking for parents. Managing democracy is hard enough with informed grownups. Imagine it with irrational teens.

Brightburn skirts all of these possible themes. It is not a study of the psychological effects of poverty and how parents deal with it. It is a run-of-the-mill horror movie with a young Superman as the villain.

PUBLISHED ON May 25,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 995]


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