Review: Death of a Superhero
Starring: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aisling Loftus, and Andy Serkis
Plot: A 15 year old diagnosed with cancer escapes to an animated world where he is a powerful superhero. His worrying parents decided to find him a therapist.
Teenagers have it pretty rough. We might not believe it in retrospect, but they do. Hormones start pumping through your body making the former annoying opposite sex become the focus of all your attention. You also reach an age where all your childish enjoyments like cartoons and comics have to be reprioritized for things that will help you in the future, so they say. You also want more freedom, but your parents are hesitant to give it to you. Basically, you are treated like a child and adult simultaneously and usually when it is most convenient for your parents. To put cancer on top of all of that makes for some pretty dramatic storytelling.
Donald (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is a 15 year old boy suffering from cancer. Otherwise, his life is pretty normal. He has a pair of worrying parents and an older brother that Donald lives through vicariously. He has 2 very loyal best friends, but where Donald’s life has paused due to his illness, his friends keep growing and developing. As teenagers, this is of course related to sex. Sex that Donald cannot have, whether that is physically or psychologically is never revealed. It fuels his attraction to a new girl. Although the initial attraction may have been based on appearance, it is her ability to riff an oral report from a blank piece of paper that sparks his interest.
As a way to cope with all that is going on in his life, Donald escapes to his cartoon world. He is constantly doodling and occasionally tags graffiti. The hero in question is based off himself. He is bald and hiding under a hood. A red circle is carved into his chest by his arch nemesis, The Glove. The Glove was a sadistic surgeon with a Freddy Krueger glove of needles and scalpels and a sexy BDSM nurse sidekick. The Glove carves the circle into him calling it the “Circle of Death.” It refers to the hole in Donald’s chest that his mother injects his medication into. The animated sequences are exceptional. The hero usually saves the damsel, but is then interrupted during her sexual advances when someone else needs helping.
His parents are worried about him so they send him to a therapist. They send him to a few therapists, but no one seems to be able to relate to him. That is until he is sent to Dr. Adrian King (Andy Serkis). It is a very Good Will Hunting esque relationship. Donald is a loveable rogue rebelling where he can while Dr. King is not your run of the mill therapist. He nurtures the relationship between him and Donald, so that Donald doesn’t run or rebel like he has in the past. He allows Donald to have his tantrums, and he ignores Donald when he thinks his time is being wasted.
Serkis and Brodie-Sangster really stand out in their performances. They are empathetic and sympathetic. They are likable. You want to root for them. That what makes the story so tragic and depressing, so much so that you start to actually anticipate the water works. What else could the story be leading to, right? Well, those water works never really come. The story is not about the inevitability of death, it is about the affirmation of life. It is never overly sad or saccharine. It is more slice of life than any cancer story has ever been or even dared to be. It certainly makes it stand out from other cancer stories. Unfortunately, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Death of a Superhero lacks the extra oomph in the end to drive the points and emotion home.
Death of a Superhero is a very bittersweet melodrama about a dying teenager. It is far from perfect, but it creatively tries to make up for its weaknesses.