Movie Review: BRIGHTBURN – how they managed to make this horror movie take on Superboy is beyond me – but I loved it

While I’m a sucker for the Marvel movies, my personal favourite movie about superhumans is 2012’s Chronicle, a movie that appeals to the side of me that sees the crossover potential of the superhuman in fiction, and not keep it limited to the kind of material that’s been pounding the cinemas for decades now, and now Brightburn, a modestly made indie movie produced by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn has cemented itself right by it.

I remain a dedicated and passionate fan of the kind of comics produced in the 60’s by Marvel Comics.  I can reread those comics over and over, but it was the British revolution in he 1980s, spearheaded by Alan Moore, that first showed me the possibilities of mashing up the “superhero” genre with others.  So far, that has actually only rarely happened in both comics and other forms of popular culture, and likely will never actually be the thing I think it could be.  Both Chronicle and Brightburn have made terrific attempts to show the consequence of superpowers that very often are glossed over in the plots of the Marvel and DC Comics superhero universes, which are primarily concerned with generating as much income as possible while sticking to the traditional good guy v bad guy plot.  The FX driven collateral damage that comes with these big battles has only been addressed once, in the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the repercussions of which precipitated the movie Captain America: Civil War, but even there it just felt like a plot point, not an organic admission that superhumans are serious trouble for the rest of us, not just inconvenient.

I won’t discuss Chronicle in any detail here, only to say that if you’re anything like me and haven’t seen it, it’s a must-see.  Brightburn is a natural spiritual companion to Chronicle in how it handles not just superpowers, but the effects of superpowers on the individual.  In Chronicle, three lives are affected by the transformative, separational effect of acquiring superpowers, in Brightburn, it’s a 12 year old boy.  What’s astounding to me is how the movie got made in the first place: it’s a blatantly unashamed retelling of the Superman origin story. Not only does it involve a childless couple finding a crashed alien ship containing a humanoid baby, the crash site also happens to be a farm in rural Kansas! I’d think there are some kind of “parody” type laws of the same kind that protect the porn versions of superhero movies that came into play here, because I can’t imagine Warner Brothers never once tried to intervene in the making of this picture – of course, that’s idle speculation on my part, but c’mon!  So, the kid grows up and he’s all the couple (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) could ever have wanted; quiet, sensitive, and loving, until he starts to come under a strange influence that reaches out to him psychically, turning his world upside down, and when his parents get an inkling of this, they have the same fear any adoptive parents would: the child they have loved as their own will one day discover the truth about himself and seek a greater meaning to his life than they can provide.  In this section there’s an origin story of sorts as the kid, Brandon – played well by Jackson Dunn (who also plays the teenage Scott Lang in Avengers: Endgame, oddly enough) – discovers his nascent superpowers and begins experimenting with them, and slowly, the uneasy mixture of abilities beyond any other human being, and the twilight zone of encroaching puberty, allow Brandon to make his own choices, to the detriment of almost everyone around him.  In this case, Brandon’s arc is similar to that of Chronicle’s Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), fulfilling the old adage that with power comes corruption, as Brandon sets about righting the wrongs that his young mind perceive as having been done to him, similar in spirit to the final act of Carrie, now that I think about it.  But where Carrie ends, Brandon’s superhuman spree of carnage is simply the beginning, and with his power comes a mean streak that’s highly reminiscent of the character Johnny Bates, in the seminal comic series Marvelman (renamed Miracleman – a saga unto itself).  In what could easily be considered the first attempt to show the superhuman in the “real” world, Johnny Bates is the former sidekick, Kid Marvelman, to the titular hero, who, during his adult sidekick’s disappearance from the scene, grew up with his powers, developed them in secret, and then finally, unable to see past his hatred of us lesser beings, unleashed a tidal wave of brutality that ultimately decimated the people and city of London.

In fact, there are two scenes in which Brightburn, written by Gunn’s brother Brian and cousin Mark, that shows the direct influence of Marvelman, both lifted from the comic.

This movie didn’t light up the box office the way Marvel, and to a lesser extent, DC have done, and given its R rating and low budget it was never going to compete, but I found it to be satisfying, and a great counterpoint to the kind of superhuman movies the world is used to seeing.  I’m also a horror movie fan, and I greatly appreciated an R-rated superhuman movie that doesn’t just earn its rating from the lead character being a sarcastic pottymouth.  And while Logan’s violence was kind of what you’d expect from that character, it never felt authentic to me, just fanservice.  Brightburn had violence that mattered, it had violence that came with consequences that went way past just the gory death of a bad guy, consequences for both Brandon and those around him, just like Chronicle.

In act 3, though, I feared it would all fall apart due to a simple lack of belief in the screenwriters, and their possible inability to actually follow through with the premise they had come up with, an unwillingness to plow forward to the movie’s natural conclusion, and Brandon’s ultimate fate – but I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case, and I came out the theater with an immense sense of satisfaction over how it ended.  Perfect, given the material and genre.

As an aside, it came to me as I pondered this review, that Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman as a resentful, moody, humourless bore with what appears to me a strong streak of narcissism (look at how he appears to drink up the adulation of the crowds that surround him) seems very much as if he could be the grown-up version of Brandon, once he’d grown out of his pubescent phase.  Looking at it that way imbues the movie version of Superman with more meaning to me than it actually deserves.

I greatly enjoyed this rare attempt to show the true potential of the superhuman in fiction, and wish that Marvel would make some braver creative decision that could push some of their characters in a more naturalistic, darker direction, but so far, only the Daredevil show on Netflix has tried.  Highly recommended to fans of the genre.


© Andrew Hope, 2019

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Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME a serviceable addition to Marvel’s growing list of franchise pics, but nothing more than that.

It’s hard to believe, but as of this year’s Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland has donned the spider-suit in more movies than any other actor, and it’s only been three years since his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War!  To my knowledge, only Nicholas Hammond has played the character more than him.  This time around, it’s in his second solo outing, subtitled Far From Home.

Early in the movie, the lingering effects of the Avengers epic are dealt with: the “snap” which killed off half of the universe’s population – including Peter Parker and his closest school chums – and the loss of Tony Stark as Peter’s mentor.  Ok, I’m sure that second one is a massive spoiler to anyone who hasn’t seem Endgame, but after a couple of months, that’s kind of on you.  Following the snap, undone by The Hulk in Endgame, that half returns, but it’s after a five-year gap in which those left behind have gotten older.  There are a couple of jokey references to this, but overall it felt pretty phony to me.  While everyone keeps saying all this happened five years ago, there’s almost zero evidence that it actually happened, especially given that none of the crew from Spider-Man: Homecoming were affected by it.  There was a great chance to show this to comedic effect by having at least one them appear in the movie five years older, but I felt that the need to stand by contracts hamstrung the writers to the point where all they could do was pay lip service to the event.  And in a weird way, I also feel that the whole Tony Stark/Peter Parker dynamic seemed a little forced too – but only a little.  I never *really* got the sense, even in Homecoming, that a high school-age Peter Parker would really mean THAT much to Stark.  Anyway, I’m digressing.  On to the review!

I tend to get a little windbaggy when I write about these Marvel movies, and how Marvel Comics was a keystone of my early childhood development, and it’s the same with this movie, but I’ll keep it a little light: Spider-Man’s costume is my earliest memory of superhero costumes – my second? Mysterio, in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #5, in 1973, which reprinted the original story by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko from a decade earlier.

I remember loving that costume so much as a kid, and it’s always stuck with me as one of my all-time favourite costumer designs. I always enjoyed the character’s appearances over the decades, so when I heard none other than Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy, ) was cast as Quentin Beck I was in two minds: on one hand, I’m a fan, but on the other, would he just phone it in as another paycheque job?  The good news is I didn’t think at any time he did.  I had much the same fears over Michael Keaton’s turn as The Vulture, and I was surprised there too.  Is the Spider-Man franchise the one where good actors are hired to play the villains?

The plot of Far From Home is pretty basic: Peter and his high school crew go on a European trip for some much-needed escape from the recent cosmic events, and during this trip, Peter plans to tell MJ how he feels about her.  But while they’re in Venice, a giant Hydro-Man type water-creature appears, only to be confronted by a new hero on the scene – Mysterio.  Well, it won’t come as a shock to anyone that Mysterio is the movie’s bad guy.  I mean, if you went into this movie thinking otherwise, maybe movies are not your thing.  Knowing that he’s the villain of the piece, it makes the next hour or so of the movie a little repetitive while you’re waiting for the inevitable reveal – during which, Peter interacts in an awkwardly, weirdly-written way, with Nick Fury.  You wonder, how can Fury possibly be taken in by Mysterio’s outlandish story?  In a nod to the early and brief days of Alan Moore’s stint at Marvel, Earth-616 gets mentioned by Mysterio as he claims to be the sole survivor of an alternative Earth, now here to help Peter’s from being destroyed.  There’s an answer to Fury’s apparent gullibility much later.  Alongside these scenes, Peter still has to interact with his school friends, and it’s all mildly amusing and somewhat realistic – to a point.  At no time do they feel like real, contemporary teenagers.  They’re all way too wholesome, even MJ who is set up as the mysterious, deadpan, sarcastic chick who’s really only about as “edgy” as someone who makes a point of not listening to Taylor Swift.  Having said that, I mostly liked all the kids in the movie, even though they’re the lightweights that are there to remind long-time Spidey movie fans that this is an “all-new!” version.

My interest was always with Gyllenhaal, and I’ll say he delivered.  Not any kind of award-winning role, and not as meaty as Michael Keaton’s Vulture, but once his motive was revealed I was onboard with it, and I enjoyed how scenes during the key reveal were doled out alongside previously meaningless clips from other Marvel movies in a manner that reminded me a little of Keyzer Soze’s in The Usual Suspects.   From that point on, it’s all about how Spider-Man is going to take down Mysterio, and for me, it made for a pretty good, energetic ending.  What added to it for me is that while Mysterio’s true plans are revealed, there’s still plenty of classic Mysterio/Spider-Man confrontations, which I greatly enjoyed.  I felt like The Vulture, Mysterio was given a pretty reasonable update, and it didn’t hurt that there’s a kind of nod to Mission Impossible in the storyline too.

What prevents me from being more enthusiastic about the movie is that, at over two hours, I felt the action and story flagged along the way.  It felt bloated, and it had a couple of scenes that feel too similar to others in the movie, and while the main plot is the kids’ chaperoned trip to Europe, that felt really redundant to me.  None of the locations in the movie are anything other than interchangeable backdrops, given that they have almost zero interaction with the locals or cultures that they meet on the trip.  That, too, felt phony.  Far From Home is simply the Marvel juggernaut trundling along on its own world tour, vacuuming up money along the way.  The story doesn’t stretch any of the characters, doesn’t really force any great change upon them.  Marvel’s already done that, and it was called Endgame, and Far From Home is far from that.  Stay through the end credits though – there are two fairly meaty scenes that you won’t want to miss.  If you heard they’re amazing and unmissable, that’s not exactly how I felt about them, but they’re worth waiting for.


© Andrew Hope., 2019

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Movie Review: AVENGERS: ENDGAME – impressive, emotional end to the Avengers saga, but where can the studio possibly go from here?

Just about a year after Avengers: Infinity War was released, the second part of the story, Avengers: Endgame has descended upon the Earth, much like the kind of invading alien force audiences are all too familiar with, ironically, because of movies just like this.  I write this on Saturday, April 7 – opening weekend – and the movie is projected to have an opening weekend gross in excess of $1 billion, and that’s in addition to other cinematic records it is crushing.  Of course, the age-old question asks: is it any good?  My reaction is similar to that of Infinity War: it’s really good, and I really liked it, but it doesn’t get 5 stars, and left me with questions about the future of the entire Marvel franchise.

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Movie Review: SHAZAM! takes a lighter approach than recent DC movies, but the script is a horrendous, weak mess.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing this is the second Captain Marvel movie released this year, even though Brie Larson’s titular character was never actually called by that name, and Zachary Levi’s character doesn’t even have a name – but yes, the guy in the red costume and yellow lightning bolt is actually named Captain Marvel.  Marvel Comics won the copyright battle on that one, and so from that day, he’s been referred to colloquially by his activation word, Shazam! I will not even try to give you a canned history of the character, as I didn’t grow up reading him and don’t have any particular affinity for him either.  In fact, the only personal relationship I have to a version of this character is to the British rip-off character, Marvelman, so a little more of that later.  But right here, all you get is the movie.

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Movie Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL – the latest in the Marvel Studios juggernaut is enjoyable thanks to Brie Larson’s charm, but lightweight.

Carol Danvers, much like Tony Stark in 2008, was a comic book character largely unknown outside of the increasingly insular world of comic book readers, but thanks to her inclusion in the cinematic Marvel Universe, now over $1 billion worth of people know the name worldwide, bringing with it untold fame and riches for its Oscar-winning star, Brie Larson.  More importantly, the movie introduces Marvel’s first female headliner and positions the character as potentially the most powerful in the entire franchise.  Unfortunately, in today’s sociopolitical climate, the very notion has been met online with the kind of outraged-male bile all too common.  I’d have preferred not to put this kind of spin on my reviews, but it’s unavoidable.

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Movie Review: US – Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out is doing big business, but I found little to like.

The review title says it all, doesn’t it?  Consider that a tl:dr, if you don’t want to read a dissenting opinion, but if you’re curious as to why I seem to be in the overwhelming minority when it comes to this movie, plough your way through.

I’ll say at the top that I wasn’t a great fan of Get Out either.  I thought the hype and critical praise for a mostly just good movie was startling.  My own daughter, whose opinion generally aligns with mine on horror movies, was one of those people who thought Get Out was fantastic, and I approached it with some excitement, as someone who generally feels let down by most movies in the genre.  It happened with Get Out, and to an even greater degree with Peele’s sophomore work, Us. Continue reading “Movie Review: US – Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out is doing big business, but I found little to like.”

Movie Review: PET SEMATARY – The 2nd attempt to film Stephen King’s best novel makes a lot of changes, but few of them work.

I am a child of the 80s, and just like whichever decade your teen years were set, that is the era that defined me.  Part of that period in my life was where my affinity for the horror genre evolved, with the books of Stephen King maybe the largest single element.  Throughout that decade, with no internet to make things easy, I devoured not just his books, but also news of his books.  Each time I went into a book shop with the intent of picking up his newest release, I left in a hurry to get home to crack open the cover.  I remember calling the US telephone operator from my bedroom in Scotland around 1987 or so and actually getting the number of King’s Bangor mansion, but there was never an answer each time I called.  All this is to tell you that I was a big fan of King, to preface the review of 2019’s Pet Sematary.

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