Brow Beat

The Trailer for Brightburn Asks, “Are You Sure You Want to Adopt That Outer Space Baby You Found?”

Elizabeth Banks in the middle of the woods, holding a baby wrapped in a red cape.
What could go wrong?

From Pharaoh’s daughter to Ma and Pa Kent, our culture is jam-packed with myths and legends about abandoned infants taken in and raised by strangers who grow up to be extraordinary. The one thing these stories usually have in common is that the mystery baby turns out to be extraordinarily good, and almost always in ways that benefit the people who were kind enough to raise him or her—although in the Islamic tradition, the woman who finds Moses ends up getting tortured to death by her husband for converting to monotheism, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Judging from its trailer, Brightburn makes a pretty strong case for leaving that infant in the basket or Kryptonian escape pod where you found it:

Brightburn was directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian and Mark Gunn, but Sony’s marketing team is doing everything they can to make it seem like the work of its producer, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. Brian Gunn is James’ brother and Mark is his cousin—and Brightburn star Elizabeth Banks also starred in James Gunn’s first feature, Slither—but the new film was known as “Untitled James Gunn Horror Movie” for most of its development, which seems like stretching it. From a marketing perspective, selling this as a “James Gunn” film is irresistible in ways that go beyond name recognition: Disney fired Gunn from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies over the summer, and now James Gunn is releasing a horror movie that takes superhero movie tropes and rips them apart from the inside. But like most marketing narratives, this one doesn’t bear too much scrutiny: Even if James Gunn had made Brightburn entirely by himself, it shot in the spring—the main effect Gunn’s firing had on the film seems to have been the cancellation of the scheduled Comic-Con appearance where he would have unveiled it—and judging from the trailer, Brightburn seems to mostly be in dialogue with Superman, and specifically the clothesline Americana of Man of Steel:

That’s the movie that kicked off the DC Extended Universe, where a post-Marvel James Gunn got hired to write Suicide Squad 2 in October, so the whole “Goodbye to All That” frame falls apart pretty quickly. On the other hand, Brightburn looks like an appealing and adroit pop culture mashup—look how fast the clothesline from Man of Steel turns into the one from Halloween—so this might be the rare film that is worth considering outside of the context of Disney and Warner Bros.’ hiring and firing decisions. We’ll have to wait until Memorial Day to know for sure, but if Brightburn is as good as its trailer—and audiences somehow still aren’t burned out on superhero movies after the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman, Once Upon a Deadpool, Shazam!, Captain Marvel, Hellboy, and Avengers: Endgame between now and then—expect David Yarovesky, Mark Gunn, and Brian Gunn to head to the big leagues soon. If this is what they can do with characters they made up themselves, imagine what they’ll be able to do with characters somebody else made up half a century ago!