Death of a Superhero: Kids with Cancer Can Be Assholes, Too
Sonald is a 15-year-old with cancer. This is, of course, unfair. The problem is, Donald is constantly reminding us exactly how unfair it is that he has cancer. The first half hour of Death of a Superhero is essentially the story of a bald kid (Donald is played by a competent Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who is behaving terribly. He shouts nasty things at his parents, he flirts with suicide (playing chicken with trains, pulling a high-wire act on a bridge above a freeway), and he leaves angsty graffiti all over town. You don't just dislike him, you loathe him.
Because Donald's a comic-book geek, he visualizes his battle with cancer as a crudely animated fight between a superhero and a Freddy Kreuger–clawed bad guy with an evil sexy nurse sidekick. The production design on these fantasy sequences is cheap and careless; it's the kind of dumbed-down look you'd expect from adults who haven't touched a comic book in 15 years. Because of his awful behavior and too-vivid fantasy life, Donald is seeing a therapist played by Andy Serkis, who has brought so much joy to the world with his finely nuanced portrayals of CGI creatures. Unfortunately, in the flesh, Serkis is a big ham, a rumpled Robin Williams kind of magical therapist.
It's not all bad. After that painful first half-hour—Christ, I cannot in this limited space relay to you how much of a whiny shit this kid is—the inevitable warming-up scenes come. Problem is, the puppy love that plays out with a misfit girl from Donald's class doesn't make up for the insipid production values or the poor characterization that comes before. As his cancer gets worse, interesting conflicts arise: As an older brother, can you in good conscience let your little brother face death without losing his virginity first? Can sharing a joint with your son be considered medicinal? But you've seen this kind of movie before, and chances are you've seen it done more skillfully and memorably.