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“Death of a Superhero”: The Anti-“Avengers”

May 2, 2012

Are you uninterested in watching a bunch of grown men and women in tights fight crime this weekend? Or, more likely, is The Avengers all sold out at your local umpteen-plex? Fear not, cinema/comic book fans—there is an alternative: Death of a Superhero, a bracingly unsentimental British indie now available on VOD that will soon be in limited theatrical release after recently premiering at the Tribeca International Film Festival.

Like another TIFF import that deserved a wider US audience, 2010’s Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Death casts Lord of the Rings/Rise of the Planet of the Apes alum Andy Serkis in a live-action role that should but probably won’t earn him an Oscar nod. This time, he’s a soulful, empathetic shrink who treats a terminally ill teen (Love Actually‘s remarkable Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and he’s every bit as good as Robin Williams was in the similar Good Will Hunting. The boy tries to escape his grim reality by drawing comic-book fantasies, boldly rendered in animated sequences by director Ian Fitzgibbon.

Unlike, say, Kate Hudson’s terminally cutesy cancer comedy A Little Bit of Heaven, Death of a Superhero never shies away from the horrific fate facing its protagonist. Yet it’s not depressing. It’s a visually stunning celebration of life and youth. And Anthony McCarten’s screenplay, based on his own novel, is wonderfully quotable (“Life is a sexually transmitted disease”) without being glib or quippy.

Of course, Death will get crushed by The Avengers at the box office this weekend, but making a film about a kid with cancer that’s isn’t sappy or lachrymose? That’s a superhuman cinematic feat.

What’s your Plan B if The Avengers is sold out this weekend? Post a comment!

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