Donald is a dying 15-year-old boy who draws comic book stories of an invincible superhero as he struggles with his own mortality.
Terminal illness is a particularly hard subject to tackle in film. Finding the appropriate way to handle it can be a tough balance to strike. Usually, films tend to lean towards a somber, yet uplifting approach. Films such as The Fault In Our Stars, and Still Alice present the afflicted in a serious way, yet offer hope at the end of the picture. Others, like 50/50 use humor to deflect from the pain of such a tradgedy in the hopes of using laughter as medicine. Death of a Superhero utilizes a bit of both, coupled with some great comic book inspired visuals, to a satisfying effect.
Donald shares a tender moment with Shelly.
Based on the book of the same name by Anthony McCarten, the film swaps New Zealand for Ireland. Donald (Game of Thrones’ Thomas Sangster) is a 15-year-old boy who has developed terminal cancer. A huge fan of comic books, he develops a superhero alter-ego to help cope with the weight of his diagnosis. However, he slowly starts to look at life more in the sense of his comic book fantasy world, and attempts to commit suicide. As a result, his parents send him to a therapist named Dr. King (Andy Serkis) in the hopes of changing his perception of his illness. While their relationship is rocky at first, the two begin to form a connection. Along the way, Donald meets Shelly (Aisling Loftus), his dream girl, and begins to live what little life he has left.
Donald with two of his school mates.
The film’s initially melancholy beginning eventually morphs into a hopeful outlook on an albeit bleak situation. Donald has been dealt a very rough hand, and comics seem like the way out for him. Yet, with the help from Dr. King, he sees the other side to his tragically shortened life. Sangster does an excellent job of conveying the multitude of emotions one would expect a character in such circumstances to be feeling. Donald is a kid who we could all see ourselves having been or knowing at one point in our lives, and his pain is understandable. Aisling Loftus is great as Shelly, the guide to Donald’s more hopeful outlook on life. Serkis is solid as Dr. King, who is oddly reminiscent of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, which is something I found to be a bit odd for a seemingly pretty original film. The comic book visual segments are great as well, and provide a unique look into Donald’s mind.
Donald with Dr. Adrian King on his boat.
My one gripe with the film is its story. The genre tropes are too easily handed in here, which is sad given the film’s unique qualities. As mentioned earlier, Serkis’ Dr. King is a completely generic film psychologist. He drinks too much, smokes, has lost a loved one, and uses unconventional methods with his subject, who initially dislikes him but the two eventually come close. A switch up in the typical genre plot would’ve been nice, but ultimately does not doom the film.
Donald uses his talent as an artist to escape the real world.
Donald has put a lot of artwork on his high top chucks.
Chucks are prominent here, as Donald draws on his own worn out pairs as a form of comfort. He sports his own custom design throughout the film.
The camera gives a front view of Donald’s chucks.
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