Thomas Brodie Sangster as Donald in DEATH OF A SUPERHERO (Donald Clarke)

Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon
Screenplay by Anthony McCarten, based upon his novel
Produced by Michael Garland, Astrid Kahmke & Phillip Kreuzer
Released by Tribeca Film, available on Tribeca on Demand
Germany/Ireland. 90 min. Not rated
With Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Andy Serkis, Aisling Loftus, Michael McElhatton, Sharon Horgan & Jessica Schwarz

Before all you fanboys and fangirls watch on-demand this potential indie alternative to The Avengers, you should know that this movie isn’t exactly a lot of ”fun.” The word “death” before “superhero” gives much more of an indication where this is heading. It’s not about an actual superhero, per se, but an Irish teenager (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) dying of cancer. His anger pours out in his drawings filled with violence, death, and sex, and come to life in 2D animation. It’s his way to cope with the glaring fact that he’s going to perish.

The drama’s centered in some part around the boy’s relationship with his therapist, Dr. Adrian King, played by Andy Serkis, who like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, is comfortable in shaggy facial hair, wool sweaters, and also has a late wife who he misses very much. He’s also the best reason to see the film. Serkis, often so great in motion-capture performances (like in last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Adventures of Tintin), takes on what is a more nuanced, intimately written role—a guiding light for young Donald. He never overplays a beat and registers so much sympathy and care for this boy that we do as well. (Brodie-Sangster is quite affecting as well.)

As for how the movie deals with cancer? Aside from the animated sequences (which sprout up based on how Donald is feeling at a moment), he misbehaves by vandalizing public property, which gets him suspended from school. The drawings Donald makes could be considered by some generic—same ol’ guys with big muscles bounding around and women in sexy lingerie in dark Frank Miller-esque settings, but that’s a male teenager for you. Yet the emotion behind the characters is what counts. The scene where his father and mother are told of their son’s worsening health is well done; there is not a word spoken as the news sinks in. Another Good Will Hunting touch is to give Donald a possible romantic interest (pretty Aisling Loftus), who first gravitates toward Donald because of his artistic talent. Some of their conversations are not totally convincing—at one point he praises her for “seeing the world in your own way”—but by the end their relationship has gone through its ups and downs without taking the expected route.