Warning: Major SPOILERS for Brightburn ahead
David Yarovesky's supervillain horror movie Brightburn is a twist on Superman that makes a few changes to his alien origins. Set in the town of Brightburn, Kansas, the movie is about a farmer couple who want to start a family but are having trouble conceiving, and one day find a baby boy in a spaceship that crash-lands on their property.
Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) raise young Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) as their own son, but when he reaches the puberty he starts receiving messages from his spaceship that awaken terrifying powers. Unlike Clark Kent, Brandon doesn't use these powers to save people, but instead uses them to start horribly murdering the people of Brightburn, with an apparent plan for eventual world domination.
Written by Brian and Mark Gunn, and produced by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, Brightburn is a dark mirror of one of the best-known superhero origin stories. But where exactly does Brandon (who eventually earns the supervillain name Brightburn) come from, and why is he such a bad boy?
Brightburn's Origins Are (Almost) The Same As Superman's
Brightburn doesn't have the equivalent of a scene on Krypton with a tearful mother and father sending their baby boy off in a space pod to save his life. We never actually see Brandon's home planet, or any of the other aliens from his species, so it's unclear whether or not his home was destroyed in the same way Krypton was. However, from the point he arrives on Earth onwards, his origins closely match Superman's. Tori and Kyle are startled by the crash of the spaceship landing in the nearby woods, and run out to investigate. Tori arrives on the scene first, and when Kyle catches up to her she has baby Brandon wrapped in a blanket.
A montage at the beginning of the movie shows Brandon growing up with the Breyers, and he seems to be a normal, happy child. However, as Kyle points out later on, he never once gets injured or sick, indicating that he was invincible from birth (though his other powers take longer to develop). Like the Kents, the Breyers hide the spaceship in the family barn, and while Brandon knows he's adopted, he doesn't find out his true origins until he becomes drawn to the ship's hiding place and breaks the chain on the door. Unlike Clark Kent, however, Brandon discards his parents entirely after finding out they lied to him, telling his aunt and school counselor, Merilee (Meredith Hagner), that he now knows he's superior to everyone around him.
Brightburn Is An Invader By Nature
Early on in Brightburn, Brandon answers a question in class about the difference between bees and wasps. He explains that bees are pollinators and wasps are predators, and that wasps are more aggressive. He then goes into more detail about a "brood parasite" species of wasp called polistes sulcifer, also known as "cuckoo paper wasps," which use brute force to take over the nests of other wasps and force them to raise their young. This is an analogy for Brandon himself and outlines the nature of his species: an alien race who trick the people of other planets into raising their children, so that they can one day rise up and dominate the worlds they have invaded.
Brandon begins to develop an aggressive and evil nature at the age of 12, when the spaceship in the barn awakens from dormancy and begins sending him messages in his own species' language. Brandon translates the alien sounds one word at a time until the message becomes clear: "Take the world." Tori and Kyle find a stash of pornography under his mattress that includes pictures showing the anatomy of humans and even grisly photos of organs. It's also implied that Brandon's programming includes the instinct to breed with humans, as he begins stalking a girl from his school after Kyle gives him the "birds and the bees" talk.
Unlike Superman, who begins to manifest heroism at the same time as his powers and eventually becomes Earth's hero and protector, Brandon has clearly been sent to Earth as a kind of sleeper agent. His purpose is to "take the world" - expanding his species' grip on the universe by claiming a planet for himself. And given that he has all of the same superpowers as Superman, there really isn't anyone who could stop him.
How Brightburn Inverts Superman's Origins & Iconography
Brightburn's origin story is a mirror of Superman's, and part of that is inverting key elements of Superman's iconography. For example, the symbol that Brandon scribbles over and over again and eventually leaves at the scenes of his crimes resembles an "S" with a mirrored "S" laid over it. It's also significant that Brandon wears a mask (made from the blanket he was found wrapped in) as part of his supervillain persona, whereas a key part of Superman's identity is the fact that he doesn't wear a mask. Brandon even has his own version of Kryptonite; Tori notices that he bleeds after cutting himself on a sharp part of his spaceship, and later rips a piece off the spaceship to use as a knife.
Brandon's atrocities are also inversions of classic moments from Superman movies. Whereas in Superman: The Movie, a three year-old Clark saves Pa Kent from being crushed by a truck, in Brightburn Brandon gruesomely murders his uncle, Noah (Matt Jones) by picking up his truck and dropping it to the ground grill-first, so that Noah's jaw gets smashed off by the steering wheel. Brandon kills his mother by flying up with her high into the air (as Superman has so often done with Lois Lane) and then dropping her to her death. In contrast to Superman Returns' epic scene where Superman saves a plane full of people, Brightburn ends with Brandon deliberately crashing a plane to cover up the evidence of his attack on the Breyer farm.
Then, of course, there's the end of the movie, in which Michael Rooker plays a conspiracy talk show host who alludes to dark versions of other DC characters like Aquaman and Wonder Woman. It looks like Earth is in big trouble.