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Superman vs. ‘Brightburn’: The Experts on How the Man of Steel Can Rise Above the Darkness

It’s virtually impossible — very much by design — to watch the trailer for the superhero-turned-horror movie Brightburn without thinking of Superman. From it, we quickly gather that a child has landed on Earth from an alien civilization and is found by a pair of Kansas farmers who decide to raise him. Things seem pretty great until puberty, when his extraordinary abilities kick in and he begins a transformation — not into the beacon of hope that Superman does, but, instead, into a predator who uses his various super powers to inflict harm on virtually everyone around him. It’s a true Man of Steel nightmare, and in some ways only a few steps removed from a number of interpretations of the Last Son of Krypton that embraces darker elements than the more noble ones the character has been famous for.

“When I first saw the promo,” notes Steve Younis, webmaster of the Superman Homepage, “it was obvious to me that the director was intentionally mimicking many of the shots that Zack Snyder created for Man of Steel. This movie is obviously a ‘what if’ Superman story … which is interesting, because many fans felt Man of Steel was too dark. Brightburn takes that to a much darker place.”

As Brightburn cowriter Brian Gunn (younger brother of producer and Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn) explains in official comments (as are all Blackburn-specific quotes from the filmmakers): “There’s a tradition that goes back to Moses up through contemporary superhero stories about childless parents who take in an infant that they find in the wild. Those figures grow up to be noble and heroic, but we wondered what would happen if it went the other way and this child ends up being something sinister.”

Brian’s cousin and the film’s cowriter, Mark Gunn, adds, “[We were encouraged] to play up the superhero element even more than we had in our original script. To put superpowers in a horror context seemed really fun to us — it was an opportunity to mix together two different genres that hadn’t really been mixed together before.”

Continues Brian, “We realized that there are many superhero abilities that, if you were on the receiving end of them, would be terrifying. Flying could appear very ghostly. Laser eyes can be demonic. Super strength can be horrifying. Lots of super abilities, if you turn them just a couple of degrees, become grist for horror.”

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