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Brightburn: 5 times our favourite superheroes went super-bad


What if Superman decided that he wasn’t Earth’s protector, but instead its punisher? It’s clearly something which has been on the mind of horror and sci-fi aficionado David Yarovesky, whose second feature Brightburn is in some ways closer to the Son of Sam than the Son of Krypton.

After crash-landing on Earth, newly adopted and super-powered kid Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) finds that society doesn’t accept him all that easily… and he responds in the only way he knows: by donning a mask and unleashing hell. Kids eh?

Produced by Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, and written by his brother Brian and cousin Mark, Brightburn is an intriguing fusion of superhero lore and horror. But it also answers the question: what happens when superheroes go bad? Thankfully, we have some prior experience…

1. Kal-El in Superman III (1983)

Supes (Christopher Reeve) grows a 5 o’clock shadow, develops a kiss curl and adopts one hell of a bad attitude. Due to the ill-effects of synthetic Kryptonite, Kal-El spends the afternoon pelting peanuts at the back line of a bar and scowling at strangers before heading to the junkyard to kick ten shades out of his alter ego Clark Kent, from whom Kal-El has physically split.

The super-smackdown between the two sides of Supes sees Kent whipped from pillar to post, crushed in a trash compactor and even get his suit ruined with help from an underhand acid attack. However, his eventual hard-fought victory showed the true spirit of Superman: even in his Clark Kent disguise, he can be out-gunned but never out-matched. After all, that symbol stands for hope, you know.

2. Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

What is it about turning heel in the third film of the series? Long before X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a thing, Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey was flying high as the Phoenix in the final film of the initial X-Men trilogy. After sacrificing herself in order to save her teammates and falling foul to the weight of water at the end of X2, Grey was missing, presumed dead.

However, the power of the Phoenix, an untapped aspect of her potential power, comes back with a vengeance. Most memorably, she unceremoniously kills off main character and grieving beau Cyclops (James Marsden) in the first few minutes, tears apart her childhood home before going on to shred Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) into some Infinity Stone-style dust with nothing more than a simple thought.

Janssens’ Phoenix is all red-eyed and tormented and the satisfying end result of a three-film arc. The role's new incumbent Sophie Turner has got some big boots to fill.

3. Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Once the alien symbiote known as Venom attaches itself to Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) Spider-Man suit, things start to take a turn for the worse and any sense of power or responsibility goes right out of the window. Luckily, it’s all played for laughs. Parker grows out his emo fringe, starts wearing some serious guyliner and strives to get professional rival Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) fired. Which he did pretty much deserve, to be fair. 

Most villainously of all though, he takes his pointy finger dance onto the streets, gets himself another new sweet all-black suit and makes ex-gf MJ (Kirsten Dunst) jealous by going all Strictly Come Dancing with Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard). He eventually manages to exorcize the Venom-ous demon with the help of the bells in a church tower, whose sound-waves emit the alien symbiote from his body. However, it then passes onto the hapless Brock…

4. Clint Barton in Avengers Assemble (2012)

As far as first impressions go, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) didn’t come off that well at all in the first Avengers movie. After becoming brainwashed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the former agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. develops homicidal tendencies, helps to steal the powerful Tesseract, which he was sworn to protect, and carries a stare that would make even Paddington bear back down.

Luckily, Hawkeye gets to claw back a few points for his team when his colleague Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), helps him to break the hypnosis via cognitive re-calibration. Or in other words, hitting him really hard in the head. Barton once again teams up with Romanova to take down Loki and the alien Chitauri invasion, all whilst bantering about which is the correct way to pronounce Budapest.

But of course, that only makes the events of Avengers: Endgame more heart-breaking...

5. Kal-El (again) in Justice League (2017)

What is it with the Man of Steel? Henry Cavill’s Superman breaking bad was perhaps the finest moment in 2017’s Justice League. Having been assumed dead, Superman takes it to the League’s Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) after he is woken up using his home-planet tech and some wizardry from the Leaguers. Although to be fair, we’re all a little grumpy after waking from a nap.

The second coming of the Son of Krypton sees a barrage of laser-beam eyesight, displays of super strength and reflexes nippier than those of The Flash. And he trounces his fellow Leaguers all whilst standing stripped to the waist and with the smoothest of upper lips (thanks to the wonders of moustache-eliminating CGI).

After finally coming round with help from Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the scene serves as a reminder that we’re lucky to have Supes on our side and that big baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) was about to get what’s coming to him.

Brightburn screens in advance for Unlimited members on 10th June before going on wide release on 21st June. Tweet us your favourite superheroes-gone-bad movies @Cineworld.

Robb Sheppard is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.