I decided to watch this movie after reading a review at Funk’s House of Geekery, so credit to slamadams for selling it so well to me.
Death of a Superhero is based off a novel of the same name by Anthony McCarten. It’s a tale that has elements of familiarity: fifteen-year-old Donald Clarke struggles to come to terms with his terminal cancer. Unable to keep up with the angsts and joys of being a typical teenager, he retreats into his imaginary world of superheroes and villains.
It stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the dark-eyed kid from Love Actually and Nanny McPhee) as Donald and Andy Serkis (yep, Gollum/Smeagol) as the only therapist who makes a connection with him. Both put up excellent performances.
The screenplay is populated with Donald’s amazing sketches: of himself, as a muscled, bald, wordless superhero with a blood-red circle cut into his chest by his nemesis, which perhaps represents his cancer and seems to drain him of energy. Of his archenemy, the Glove, a Frankenstein-esque monster with a fistful of sharpened blades. Of the Glove’s assistant, a leather-clad nurse with a voice like a kitten. The seamless integration of Donald’s gritty, stylised sketches with real-life events was one of the best parts of the film. I loved the art, the mood and the way it was layered on top of reality.
But the most part of the film is about Donald being a teenager. His brother and his friends are finding girls and having sex; he listens on with quiet fascination. Pale and thin in his beanie, Donald hangs on to the edges of school society. The typical new girl (Aisling Loftus) arrives at his school, and (as expected) she is rebellious, intelligent and different from all the other girls. He starts falling for her.
In essence this is a tender, subtle and endearing movie. The poignancy of Donald situation is never overdone and I was glad that it never bordered on sentimentality. The interactions between Sangster and Serkis were entertaining; the scenes with Donald and his parents I found most moving. I thought Brodie-Sangster was perfect casting for the role; I believed him at every moment. He has these super black eyes in a very pale face that add to his…profundity.
Not an entirely original theme, but it’s done very well and the art is a real bonus. Favourite scene: when Donald decorates the school window. Very enjoyable.