Adapting his 2006 young-adult novel, Anthony McCarten doesn't mishandle the material—the story of a 15-year-old Dublin kid hoping to lose his cherry before dying of brain cancer—but he doesn't improve it either. Directed with sensitivity by Ian FitzGibbon, Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays hairless young Donald, whose obsessive comic-book sketches come to life in animated interludes. His nameless, mute alter ego is a superhero—and also a virgin pursued by death, a ghoul known as "The Glove," who has scalpels and syringes for fingers. But a tearjerker is still a tearjerker, and the film quickly becomes familiar (including the animation, very much in the style of Frank Miller). In his daily life, Donald has loving parents, a crush at school (Aisling Loftus), and a rumpled, sympathetic shrink (Andy Serkis). The teen yearning and medical scenes are well played, but Death of a Superhero gradually succumbs to formula. FitzGibbon keeps punctuating the weepie scenes with seascapes and sunsets—as if we didn't get the idea of life's seasons. Serkis, out of his green motion-capture suit for once, can be an interesting, curmudgeonly actor. (Where's his House?) In one amusing scene, he coaches Donald on how to externalize pain with shrieks and grimacing. It's like a house call from Dr. Gollum.
Brodie-Sangster as the young artist.
Opens Fri., May 4 at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown. Not rated. 99 minutes.