Slowburn (emphasis on slow)

Has Elizabeth Banks ever been cast in a role that allowed her to utilize the full range of her skills?

She’s been great in an array of movies (Pitch Perfect!), and she’s been in an array of great movies (Magic Mike XXL!), but none have let her unleash the totality of the talents she seems to possess, usually relegated to memorable supporting turns that nonetheless restrict complete plumage. As for leading gigs, she’s probably capable of Academy Award-worthy work — and/or shouldering a genre, tentpole, star vehicle (mutually exclusive categorizations only because “genre” and “Oscar” rarely go together) — yet when in the spotlight, more often than not she winds up in flicks with a better chance of netting some Razzies.

Case in point: Brightburn.

“What if Superman crash-lands on Earth as a Damien-esque supervillain” is a promising premise, but Brightburn cumbersomely straddles two approaches, each of which would’ve served as a superior individual focus compared to the mishmash of the final product.

The first could’ve entailed MORE LIZ BANKS, and acted as a sort of meta-commentary on a commonly overlooked aspect of Clark Kent’s tale: exploring how offspring-desperate, conception-deprived parents become so deluded by their societal, familial conditioning that they somehow convince themselves it’s right to raise as their own AN ANTHROPOMORPHIC ALIEN THAT LITERALLY FALLS FROM THE SKY; think about this set-up’s possible religious undertones and metaphysical theology, and how these ideas intersect with the couple’s ability to create and live in a bubble that distorts (perverts?) the common sense of reality outside their tenuous domestic bliss, and how forcing such sheltered isolation on the young can incite them to exact their repressed rage far beyond the confines of their domicile-cum-prison, and how, and how, and how, etc.

But Brightburn veers away from this juicy terrain, saddling Banks with a gaggy “there’s nothing like a mother’s devotion to her son!!!” narrative. The movie largely eschews serious topics and thematic depth altogether, leaning into its attempted thrills and chills instead of grounding the spectacle in the potential psychological human drama of the various arcs, suggested without being substantively probed.

And, look, the movie has every right to avoid wading into the artistic muck and mire of, let’s say, the radicalization of prepubescent evil. Concerning itself almost exclusively with the gradual descent into chaos wrought by this radicalization is a completely understandable plot choice (translation: $$$$$).

But, as they say: gotta spend money to make money — commercial, creative, or otherwise.

If Brightburn wanted to aim for this more conventionally-entertaining second approach, then there’s no valid excuse not to ramp it all the way the fuck up. Yes, blowing out the proceedings would’ve necessitated a bigger, perhaps unraisable budget, but stories painted on sizable canvasses with limited means frequently must justify their smaller scope by compensating with other, “artsy-fartsy” elements. Positioning his initial domestic disturbances as the climax when the carnage of his impending global domination is next on the agenda feels like a copout (once again, a movie ends too early!). Reveling in the early stages of high-octane wreckage without the intimate resonance that a scaled-down lens can bring leaves us craving a main course, because these hors d’oeuvres aren’t filling nor fulfilling enough on their own.

While we’re on the subject of economics: I respect James Gunn for using his Guardians of the Galaxy clout to produce non-Marvel projects (the fact that he doesn’t have time to actually write/direct outside the MCU is why the studio’s monopolization so dismays me), especially if caped crusader commerciality is leveraged to fund more stylistically-diverse, underrepresented fare. But freaking HORROR’s not underserved; it’s the second most bankable genre (behind you know what)! Instead of a “35,273,207 for them, one for us” situation, Brightburn is basically a hat on a hat.

Superhero horror is not a daring genre mashup; it’s Hollywood gluttony.

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