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How 2019’s Brightburn shows what James Gunn has in store for Superman

James Gunn has received a lot of backlash as the new co-head of DC Films for canceling many highly anticipated superhero projects, including a Man of Steel sequel with Henry Cavill. However, he has also sparked intrigue from many fans for announcing an upcoming reboot of Superman that he wrote himself. For those who haven’t heard the news, Gunn will produce a movie following a new version of Clark Kent during his first years working at the Daily Planet and protecting the people of Earth as Superman.

While some may be skeptical about Gunn writing and making a Superman film, it is worth pointing out that he has already made such a film not so long ago: 2019’s Brightburn. In looking at Brightburn, we can catch a glimpse of Gunn’s potential vision for the Man of Steel, which has more in common with Zach Snyder’s interpretation than fans, and even Gunn, would care to admit.

Note: This article includes a recap and spoilers for the film Brightburn.

The story

A woman holds a child in Brightburn.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Basically Superman meets The Omen, Brightburn follows a couple who adopts an alien baby that crash lands near their farm in the titular town. On his 12th birthday, the child, now named Brandon, discovers he has many of Superman’s signature powers, including super strength, the ability to fly, and laser heat vision.

But at the same time, Brandon becomes more violent and sadistic, which is only exacerbated by the bullying he endures at school. He is eventually compelled to “take the world” by the spaceship that brought him to Earth, making it clear that he hails from a race of evil world conquerors, a far cry from the more benevolent Kryptonians that birthed Superman.

Donning a red cape and a demonic cowl, Brandon starts killing anyone who has stood against him in a series of brutal and ritualistic murders marked by an emblem that harks back to Superman’s “S” symbol. Brandon eventually murders his own adoptive parents in cold blood when they try to kill him, thereby severing all his human attachments and completing his transformation into the supervillain Brightburn.

Brightburn vs. Superman

A child stands in a forest in Brightburn.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Brightburn shares many similarities with Zack Snyder’s dark interpretation of Superman, which should satisfy die-hard fans of the Snyderverse. The former film’s muted coloring and cinematography is a dead ringer for Snyder’s style in Man of Steel. Likewise, both movies explore what could happen if an alien with godlike powers suddenly appears in real life, with Brandon’s childhood journey resembling that of Cavill’s Superman.

People fear Clark and Brandon for their superhuman abilities, and they both grow up feeling different from everyone else. While Brandon experiences bullying and isolation just like Clark did, the latter’s parents teach him to practice restraint and to use his powers for good. This causes Clark to take a more heroic path than his evil counterpart, who grows to see himself as superior to humanity.

Nevertheless, the fact that Brightburn took so much from Snyder’s Superman shows how Gunn sees it as one of the most definitive versions of the beloved comic book icon. Snyder’s influence on Superman could thus carry on into Gunn’s version of the character, which could win over audiences who still clamor to see the Snyderverse live on in the DC Extended Universe.

Brightburn’s legacy

BRIGHTBURN - Official Trailer #2

Brightburn does have its flaws, as it features some plot holes, horror clichés, and CGI that looks unrealistic, even for a low-budget movie. Understandably, Brightburn was released to mixed reviews, scoring just 57% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and is now one of the lesser-known movies in Gunn’s filmography. But this shouldn’t lessen viewers’ hopes for Gunn’s Superman film.

It is worth noting that David Yarovesky directed Brightburn, with Gunn producing the film, which has a script penned by his brother, Brian, and his cousin, Mark. Also, Gunn himself wrote the screenplay for his Superman reboot, and the film will undoubtedly have much higher production value as a Hollywood blockbuster.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

All in all, Brightburn does have its merits. Its plot displays the Gunns’ deep understanding of the Superman mythos, as it twists many aspects of the iconic hero’s tale to create a supervillain origin story with many brutal and unforgettable kills. It even references Rainn Wilson’s Crimson Bolt during its midcredits scene, showing that Gunn had been developing his own cinematic universe before he became co-head of DC Films.

This all shows that James Gunn has been preparing to helm the DC Universe his entire career, and his success with the superhero genre proves he is now ready to do so. For these reasons, his Superman movie will surely please fans of his own work and those of Synder’s films.

Brightburn is available to watch on Prime Video and Apple TV.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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