MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Brightburn’ offers gruesome twist on Superman

Sony Pictures

Have you ever wondered what Superman would be like if he weren’t such a do-gooder?

What if he were a stalker or even a murderer?

No, I’m not alluding to Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” nor Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” although their depictions of Superman were a bit creepy and confused.

Nope, director David Yarovesky and screenwriters Mark and Brian Gunn (the brother and cousin of producer James Gunn) take the darkness even further and make their young, super-powered alien a full-blown psychopath in the super-hero-horror film “Brightburn.”

When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I thought it might be a parody at first, something along the lines “Blazing Saddles” or “Young Frankenstein?” As the trailer got more gruesome, I thought maybe a satire? Unfortunately this movie isn’t clever enough to even qualify for a black comedy.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve basically seen the movie, except for a few jump scares, and more gore, and mutilation.

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Brightburn (R) 1 hr. 31 min. – AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle
    » Watch trailer
  • Aladdin (PG) 2 hrs. 9 min. – AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Springdale, Bentonville Skylight
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  • Booksmart (R) 1 hr. 42 min. – AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle
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The film plays very much like a Rob Zombie slasher film remake, except the serial killer uses the super powers of Superman to deal death and destruction instead of an array of blades, tools, or other weapons.

The idea of evil super-powered beings isn’t exactly new. Superman has been dealing with rouge Kryptonians in the comics since the 1950s, and the Phantom Zone villains were introduced on the big screen in “Superman: The Movie” in 1978 and were the featured villains in 1982’s sequel “Superman II.” Snyder, of course, reintroduced even more brutal and wicked Kryptonian villains in “Man of Steel.”

However, this story is a bit different since there is no super-powered hero around to confront the young boy who fashions a blood red-colored blanket into a full faced mask and uses shoe strings to fasten it together in a way that resembles a Lovecraftian snout.

The story does hew pretty close to “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski’s comic “Supreme Power: Hyperion” for Marvel Comics, which also played around with Superman’s origin, until the movie becomes a straight-up gore fest.

On some level, there is fun to be had with the movie as a twist on a slasher flick. I can appreciate the genre when written and produced creatively and cleverly. That’s just not the case with “Brightburn.”

The film is competently shot, and the set design, tone, and mood of the film shows that Yarovesky knows his way around a slasher movie, but the script is just too derivative — almost to the level of fan fiction — for him to do much with it.

My favorite scene in the movie is cribbed from John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” just with a gruesome twist that I’m sure most will see coming from a mile away.

I think I would be giving the writers and director too much credit to believe they were exploring a theme of distrusting or fearing the alien, not the outer space kind but those who come from other countries, with this movie. If that were a theme for the film, it would be truly horrific.

If the movie accomplishes anything, it’s to further cement the need for Warner Studios to actually make a Superman movie that embraces the hope and altruism that made the character a worldwide household name rather than run from it.

Is it really that hard to capture a little truth, justice, and the American way on film?

(R) 1 hr. 31 min.
Grade: D

Classic Corner: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Gary Cooper, Vladimir Sokoloff, and Akim Tamiroff in For Whom the Bell Tolls / Photo: Universal Studios

There might not be a more meta movie than 1943’s adaption of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Hemingway based his lead character Robert Jordan, a young American who joined the International Brigades to fight in the Spanish Civil War, on his good friend and movie star Gary Cooper while writing the novel, published in 1940.

When the movie when into production, Hemingway handpicked Cooper, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, to play the character that was originally based on him. Jordan’s mission in the film is infiltrate enemy lines in order to blow up a bridge for a republican guerrilla unit that he is attached to during an assault on Segovia.

Once Jordan joins the guerrilla group, he falls in love with one of its members, the intriguing Maria, played by the lovely Ingrid Bergman, also Hemingway’s actress of choice for the movie.

The film is a romance set against a daring adventure that foregoes a simple Hollywood ending. As a Cooper and Bergman fan, it’s a movie that I feel gets is overlooked when judged against other classics of the era, but I admit my bias.

The film, however, was influential among filmmakers who rose to fame in the 1970s, particularly Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. If you check out Cooper’s wardrobe in the film, it will no doubt remind you of the garb Harrison Ford donned for “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and its sequels, which Lucas and Spielberg co-produced and Spielberg directed.

The film, directed by Sam Wood, earned nine Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, Cooper for Best Actor, and Bergman for Best Actress among others. However, only Katina Pazinou took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.