‘Superhero’: Story of teen with cancer trite

  • Wed May 2nd, 2012 3:27pm
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

The opening of “Death of a Superhero” the same day as “The Avengers” might give one pause as you’re scanning the movie section, but don’t worry. The immortals of the Marvel universe are as indestructible as ever.

What “Death of a Superhero” actually involves is a low-budget human story about people who are mortal. All too imminently mortal, in the case of a Dublin teenager named Donald (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the little boy in “Love, Actually”), who has cancer.

He’s not going to get better. He knows it, and we know it. So the issue becomes how Donald goes about the endgame while feeling the regular feelings of a mixed-up teen.

His parents put the troubled kid together with a psychiatrist (Andy Serkis), while Donald scribbles off a torrent of drawings of superhero characters; his adolescent ideas about heroes and women are (I hope) meant to show his stunted growth when it comes to such matters.

Donald’s obsessions and sense of alienation may well be true to life, but in the movie they come across as cliche. Maybe that’s because a few recent movies, including last year’s “50/50,” have explored the heart-rending situation of a young man facing cancer, and the plot line has unfortunately hardened into a formula.

When it comes around that Donald is a virgin and that he really wouldn’t mind changing his status before he dies, you can feel the movie lurching around to a story line that will occupy its final third. (Alas, this was also the case in the film “One Last Thing.”)

His buddies would like to help, and his doctor is aware of this poignant yearning. The audience, however, has been watching Donald tentatively begin a friendship with a pretty classmate (Aisling Loftus), and so we suspect he’s not going to settle for a professional escort for his first time.

Adapted from a novel by Anthony McCarten, “Death of a Superhero” might navigate these tired ideas if it had some freshness in the delivery. But did Donald’s parents have to be such easily-pegged representatives of timidity (Dad) and strictness (Mom)? Did the schoolmates have to be stock figures?

And did the psychiatrist have to be rumpled and frowsy, in a way that instantly tells us he’s going to establish a rapport with Donald at some point, a la “Good Will Hunting”? He’s played by Andy Serkis, the actor famed for his motion-capture roles (Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” saga, the monkey chief in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”); while there’s nothing wrong with his performance, Serkis needs a covering of animation to bring something new to this character.

“Death of a Superhero” (2 stars)

A boy with cancer navigates the (alas, all too formulaic) pitfalls on his road to a graceful exit. This is a sincere try, but the animation of the boy’s superhero drawings and his relationship with a psychiatrist (Andy Serkis) fall into very familiar patterns.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter.

Showing: Uptown.