SPOILER ALERT WARNING
Well, we almost got to see an evil Superman in Warner Bros.’ Justice League. For about 30 seconds, we watched the man of steel fight his teammates, throwing Batman across the town like he was a small doll. Yet, we did not get the Superman we thought we might, specifically in Zack Snyder’s infamous “nightmare scene,” where Superman kills Batman with an army of followers for supposedly letting Lois die. We all are aware of the rumored “Snyder Cut” which offers the lead-up to this scenario by following the original plot line: a 2nd Justice League, a Flash stand-alone, a 2nd Man of Steel, a 2nd Wonder Woman, and a Cyborg stand-alone. Why was Snyder’s vision for the DC universe ultimately shelved? Overall, there are a myriad of reasons as to why Snyder’s plan for the franchise never came about. The fact that Warner Bros. did not like Snyder’s ability to ask important questions about human nature may be the most important reason of all. In Sony’s Brightburn, important questions are asked about a character who has god-like powers and what the impact on society could truly look like. Unlike DC and Marvel who are both guilty of portraying their Superheroes as flawless (Marvel much more than DC), this film aims to put the flaws of human nature on full display. It is undeniable that where DC and Warner Bros. failed, Sony’s Brightburn succeeded. And Snyder would have succeeded had he not had his creativity stifled.
I believe the “intervention” by Warner Bros. in the Justice League film was inevitable, and the unfortunate family matter that Snyder had to endure during production was just an opportunity for them to pull the rug out from underneath him with an excuse for public consumption. DC and Warner Bros. chose to opt for a “lighter” version of Justice League, solely to keep up with Marvel’s brand in The Avengers. Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons why we did not get a full release of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice at the onset and why we never got to see Snyder’s true cut of Justice League. Warner Bros. went with the purported “safer” route, in order to maintain box office numbers. Simultaneously, and perhaps more importantly, Warner Bros. did not want to produce a film that posed serious questions regarding our humanity, our culture, or our politics. Snyder wanted to illustrate how our world would respond to the arrival of a “Super Man” while also accurately portraying the themes, visuals, and plot lines of the original comics. Through and through, he aimed to separate his films from the rest of the typical comic book fairy tales where there is a good guy, a bad guy, and a happy ending.
Brightburn is loosely based on the story of Superman. Just like Superman, an alien boy lands on planet Earth to two unsuspecting parents who just happen to have a problem getting pregnant. And like Superman, he has god-like powers and the ability to fly. His new mother, played by Elizabeth Banks, also believes that her son “came here for a reason.” Unbeknownst to her, that reason is not a good one.
Without a doubt, this movie is an origin story for Brandon, played by Jackson Dunn. As he gets used to his powers, the mindset he has is completely different than that of Clark Kent. The alien race that sent him to Earth gave him some kind of specific instructions, or information. The audience is left to infer as to what these messages were meant to convey. It is immediately clear that Brandon is the most gifted student of his class, he is incredibly intelligent. His overall acceptance of his powers is personified in a scene with his school counselor, who asks him: “How do you feel around the rest of your peers, around your family?” Brandon responds: “Superior.” It is at this point that the audience realizes that Brandon is a complete narcissist, possibly even a psychopath. They do not have to wait long to see their suspicions play out on screen. Brandon’s actions throughout the film can easily be defined as one of a serial killer. At the end of the film, it becomes clear that he will become a god-like monster wreaking havoc on the human race.
“If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he is all good, he cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud that you are!” – Lex Luthor
Director David Yarovesky was able to ask the same question that Snyder wanted to ask in his films, but on a much smaller platform. In Batman vs Superman, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor states to Superman: “If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he is all good, he cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud that you are!” Simply stated, what would happen if a morally flawed human was given god-like powers? For Snyder and Yarovesky, it is clear that they wanted to convey the potential threat of someone holding absolute power, as absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is the message that Warner Bros. and DC did not want to convey to their audience. Where Marvel has no problem portraying their heroes as flawless individuals, Snyder wanted to recognize that these heroes should be flawed, as they are all human in some respect. At a minimum, the question must be asked. In artistic terms it must be part of the conversation. The comic writers pose these questions all of the time. Why do the studios have such a hard time putting real-world concepts into their big-budget comic movies? I guess the answer is in Snyder and Yarovesky’s message.
For Snyder and Yarovesky, it is clear that they wanted to convey the potential threat of someone holding absolute power, as absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Overall, Brightburn was one of the best comic book films I have ever seen. And yes, I am labeling it as a comic origin story. The format of the plot is identical, even if it is missing a Marvel or DC logo on the script. The origin story is unique, even if it mirrors that of Superman’s. Where Superman was learning his powers as a young boy by saving people, Brandon was honing his powers by killing them. The movie never skips a beat, you are constantly left on your seat hoping to see whether the “good guys” win in the end. We are programmed to think that good always defeats evil. Luckily, Brightburn’s ending does not disappoint, you will be happily surprised to see a fresh take on the standard story arch for the average superhero. For Superman fans, you will love this film! There are many easter eggs throughout the film that pay homage to the Man of Steel.
Hopefully, Warner Bros. and DC Comics wake up and realize that their fanbase has always enjoyed fresh takes on a character. Tim Burton was able to create with no interruptions. Christopher Nolan was able to do it, and was praised. When Snyder wanted to put his stamp on the genre, he was constantly interrupted and forced into awkward course “corrections.” They can still atone for their sins by releasing the Snyder cut, and respecting the creative process in the future. If I had it my way, I’d have them go back to the original plan, and stick to it. I think most of the fan base and the average comic fan would appreciate this as well.
Films: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, Brightburn
Photo credits: Sony Pictures, Warner Bros./DC Comics
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