Jackson A. Dunn in Brightburn (Photo: Screen Gems)

★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY David Yarovesky
STARS Elizabeth Banks, David Denman

In concept, Brightburn sounds like a DC variation of Marvel’s popular What If? line, those alternate stories that asked such questions as “What If the World Knew Daredevil Was Blind?” and “What If Loki Had Found the Hammer of Thor?” In execution, Brightburn plays like yet another underwhelming adaptation of The Omen.

What if Superman had been evil instead of heroic? That’s the thrust behind Brightburn, where an alien infant crashlands on Earth and is adopted by this movie’s version of Ma and Pa Kent (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman). Initially, Brandon is a normal little boy, but once he reaches the age of 12 (and played at this point by Jackson A. Dunn), something much worse occurs to his body than mere puberty. He acquires superhuman strength, but rather than use his power for good, this superbad boy employs it to destroy anyone who upsets him in any manner.

It’s an intriguing premise, and it’s astonishing how little the film does with it. Director David Yarovesky and scripters Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn (respectively, the brother and cousin of James Gunn, here in producer capacity and plastered across the poster as the “visionary filmmaker behind Guardians of the Galaxy”) are more interested in churning out a standard horror flick complete with pumped-up gore than in exploring this angle in any depth. The 2012 drama Chronicle wielded a similar scenario when a high school kid acquired superpowers and allowed his own petty human foibles to sour the gift — perhaps because Brandon is an e.t., the Gunns opted to make him just a surly individual with no remorse for anything. But it’s a limiting approach, transforming this into just another slasher flick in which a soulless individual bloodily dispatches all naysayers.

It might be unfair to state that Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn are the Frank Stallone to James Gunn’s Sylvester, but the truth is that James made a nifty horror film back in 2006 called Slither (also starring Banks). Perhaps as director and/or writer, he might have teased out the interesting subtext in Brightburn or, at the very least, offered some excitement in the staging. As it stands, if viewers really want to watch a tepid movie in which a superhero kills innocent people, they might as well subject themselves to the dismal Man of Steel one more time.

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