It’s not a stretch to call James Gunn one of the most important people working in Hollywood. His 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy movie is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s tonal lynchpin. It flipped a middle finger at Marvel’s relatively grounded style and redefined how comic book-y comic book movies could be – the MCU looks very different if Guardians played out like Suicide Squad. He also took a cast of C-list characters and made them household names and the very the soul of the MCU. And right now, he’s out there bringing his distinctive style to the Suicide Squad franchise. The man has mad skills.
When details about Gunn’s secret genre movie drop, it’s a big deal. The trailer for his new project, titled Brightburn, is finally here and it’s intriguing AF. Brightburn takes the Superman mythology and turns it on its head. The film plays with the notion of an alien child crash-landing on earth, growing up on a small-town farm, and manifesting superpowers. So far so good.
Traditionally, Superman stories portray the character as the ultimate boy scout. His Christ-like willingness to sacrifice himself for others make him a better person than most humans. Brightburn asks what would happen if that alien being was more like the rest of us? Take a look.
And here’s Sony’s official synopsis:
What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister? With Brightburn, the visionary filmmaker of Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither presents a startling, subversive take on a radical new genre: superhero horror.
Gunn won’t be writing or directing the picture, but he is on board as a producer. His brother Brian Gunn and cousin Mark Gunn penned the script. David Yarovesky whose previous film is 2015’s The Hive, is the film’s director.
Pay close attention, and you can see how Brightburn’s trailer apes the vibe from the trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. It’s no coincidence. What’s funny here is that Gunn is making the Superman movie Snyder wanted to produce all along. I enjoyed Man of Steel when it came out, and I’m intrigued by the Snyder-verse overall, but in hindsight, it’s clear that Snyder either doesn’t like Superman or misunderstands what makes the character special. It speaks volumes that the guy interested in adapting Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead treats Superman’s ability to help the weak as a chore.
Brightburn looks like a horror/sci-fi comic book origin story, and that’s an appealing mashup. People may regard comic book movies as a cultural monolith, but the genre offers limitless storytelling possibilities. Even within Marvel’s sandbox, filmmakers should have opportunities to tell fascinating stories without relying on a Tony Stark cameo. If you need proof look at look at what Phil Lord’s accomplished with his Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse screenplay. It’s the sixth Spider-man movie in 18 years, and it feels like nothing that came before it.
What boggles my mind is that there aren’t more comic book movies that step out of Marvel and DC’s sandboxes to tell brand new superhero origin stories. Almost 20 years into the comic book movie golden age we shouldn’t have to list My Super Ex-Girlfriend as one of the best original superhero movies of the century.
SIDENOTE: If Brightburn’s take on rotten apple Superman tickles your fancy, check out Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s 2010 comic book, Nemesis. Published by Icon Comic, Nemesis plays with the idea of a Batman-like character who uses his skills for evil.
Brightburn hits theatres on May 24, 2019.