DVD Review: Death of a Superhero



Emma O’Donoghue takes a look at Ian Fitzgibbon’s Death of a Superhero, available on DVD and on-demand.

Based on the book of the same name by New Zealander Anthony McCarten and directed by Ian Fitzgibbon (Perrier’s Bounty, A Film with Me in It), Death of a Superhero pours new life into the well-worn themes of death and mortality by exploring them through the medium of teenage fantasy.

Fifteen-year-old Donald (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is coping with all the usual pitfalls of teenage life – self-consciousness, the general irritation of overly-affectionate parents and the constant bafflement of the opposite sex. However, these concerns are further complicated by a much more serious problem. Donald is slowly dying of leukaemia, his chemotherapy simultaneously extending his life and draining it from him. As he watches his parents rail against a disintegrating grief, he finds solace in his remarkable talent for art and graffiti, reimagining himself as a stone-faced superhero battling a villainous doctor known as ‘the glove’ –  a hero who is both irresistible to women, yet unable to consummate any kind of physical relationship with them. Donald is terrified and, understandably, obsessed by death – in an effort to control it he makes several suicide attempts, to the horror of his parents who want to see their young son embracing what life he has left. After being sent on a series of failed counselling sessions, Donald finally meets psychiatrist Dr Adrian King (Andy Serkis), a wry and erudite thanatologist (thanatology being the study of death) who calmly asserts that ‘death always wins’ but that it is not something to be afraid of. Dr King must attempt to win the trust and friendship of Donald before his young patient completely loses control.

For a bleak story, Death of a Superhero vibrantly glows with humour and optimism. There are moments of genuine comedy, for example when Donald’s dad allows him to smoke weed to calm his anxiety, and when his other brother and friends take it upon themselves to find a ‘special lady’ for Donald to lose his virginity to before he dies. Beautifully shot in many familiar Dublin locations, the city comes alive through Donald’s eyes. The narrative is interspersed with comic-book style animation, a visual representation of Donald’s dark fantasies of fear, sex and death. Meanwhile, his attraction to the highly intelligent and self-possessed Shelly (Aisling Loftus) gives him a momentary distraction from his illness and a glimpse of what a ‘normal’ life could be like.

The casting in this movie is what makes it work so well. While the plot borders on predictable and clichéd, it is the performances of Brodie-Sangster and Serkis in particular that make this worth watching. The subjects of illness and death are handled with sensitivity and realism; where Death of a Superhero could easily have veered down a schmaltzy, over-sentimentalised path, it instead delivers a unique and powerful story that manages to leave the viewer both emotionally drained and uplifted by the end.

Emma O’Donoghue

Death of a Superhero is available on DVD and on-demand from Volta.ie


Competition: Win a copy of ‘Death of a Superhero’ on DVD




Thanks to the fine people at Element Pictures Distribution, Film Ireland and Filmbase have 2 DVD copies of Ian Fitzgibbon’s Death of a Superhero to give away.

To be in with a chance of winning yourself a copy, simply answer the following question:


Name another film directed by Ian Fitzgibbon?


Email your answer to filmireland@gmail.com before lunchtime on Wednesday, 25th April.


Please include a postal address.


Winners will be contacted by email.


Fifteen-year-old Donald Clarke, after several cycles of chemotherapy, feels he has little left to hope for. Worst of all, he might die a virgin! But his friends and family are determined he’ll enjoy the best things about being a teenager: great parties, self-discovery and, most of all, a cherry-popping first love. Donald, however, prefers to escape his demons in his superhero world of comic book art.

With its innovative mix of live action and animation, Death of a Superhero is a funny, edgy and energetic look at living life to the full in the most painful of circumstances.

Stars: Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones 3, Love Actually) and Aisling Loftus (Oranges and Sunshine).

Death of a Superhero is available to rent or buy on DVD nationwide from 19th April and on-demand from Volta.ie


‘Death of a Superhero’ set for Irish DVD


Element Pictures Distribution have announced the forthcoming Irish DVD release of Death of a Superhero.

Fifteen-year-old Donald Clarke, after several cycles of chemotherapy, feels he has little left to hope for. Worst of all, he might die a virgin! But his friends and family are determined he’ll enjoy the best things about being a teenager: great parties, self-discovery and, most of all, a cherry-popping first love. Donald, however, prefers to escape his demons in his superhero world of comic book art.

With its innovative mix of live action and animation, Death of a Superhero is a funny, edgy and energetic look at living life to the full in the most painful of circumstances.

Stars: Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones 3, Love Actually) and Aisling Loftus (Oranges and Sunshine).

DEATH OF A SUPERHERO is available to rent or buy on DVD nationwide from 19th April and on-demand from Volta.ie.


Interview: Death of a Superhero Interview with Producer Michael Garland and Director Ian FitzGibbon

With Death of a Superhero opening nationwide in cinemas today we revisit our interview with its producer Michael Garland and its director Ian FitzGibbon from Film Ireland Issue 140 Spring 2012 published 6th February 2012.

Life of a Superhero

Paul Webster talks to Michael Garland, one of the producers of a new German-Irish co-produced feature and Ian FitzGibbon, its director.


Death of a Superhero tells the story of Donald, a teenager from South Dublin who is dying of cancer, and is a beautifully realised depiction of a young man facing his own demise. Although that might not sound like the cheeriest of subjects, the filmmakers have succeeded in making a film that is as entertaining as it is heartbreaking. At the centre of the film is a truly remarkable performance from lead actor, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. I caught up with producer Michael Garland and director Ian Fitzgibbon, to discuss their new film.


How did the project come to fruition?


MG: I was contacted by a man called Philip Kreuzer, an executive for Bavaria Pictures in Germany. He was having problems with producing a project on his slate. Originally, it was planned as a co-production with New Zealand but it wasn’t happening. The script was based on a novel by New Zealand writer Anthony McCarten. The book was a huge hit in Germany; I believe there was even talk of putting it on the syllabus in German schools. Kreuzer asked me to have a look at it and see if I could do anything with it. I read it and I just thought it was a real cracker, so we decided to do it as an Irish-German co-Production. I know Ian for 20 years and we’d worked together a lot before. I just thought that he’d be perfect for it, so I sent it to him and he loved it.  We then had to set about re-drafting the script, to set it in Ireland. Ian brought in Mark Doherty, whom he had worked with on such projects as A Film with Me in It, and they re-wrote it with the Dublin setting.


Can you tell me a little more about the funding?


MG: The total budget was 3.8 million. There were four elements that made this up; the money came from the Irish Film Board, Section 481, Bavaria Pictures and German Funds (which are made up from the German equivalent of Section 481.) My company, Grand Pictures, co-produce all the time; it’s almost impossible to make a feature film in Ireland now without co-producing. For me the most fruitful partnerships have come from Germany and this is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, It’s very easy to mix our incentive tax funding with theirs, they have no problem with the English language, it’s still quite a rich country and technically, they’re brilliant, so they’re very easy to work with.


So this project has really helped you cultivate a good partnership with a very successful German company?


MG: Yes, they were very happy with what we did on this film and there’s definitely a hunger to do something again, but you really need to have the right project. I think the mistake people make is to try to force things to happen, but it has to be a natural thing, as opposed to casting a German, for example, just to make up the point system that they might have, it just doesn’t work like that.


Were there certain criteria you had to meet with regard the German element?


MG: Not really for us, we were shooting here in Ireland and so could access 481, but for the Germans it was more complex, they have to tick certain boxes, like having some German crew and talent. So we had one German actress and also shot certain scenes in Germany, as well as post-producing in Germany. It was a genuine, physical co-production as well as financial. These things have to go hand in hand for it to work properly. It really worked well for all involved and I’d love to do it again.


What drew you to this film when you were first approached to direct? 


IF: I really liked the central idea of this kid confronting the ultimate challenge, which was his own death, but what particularly drew me to it was the idea that he was much more capable of dealing with it than the adults around him, who were dancing around the issue with euphemisms and not prepared to confront what was going on.


How did the project change when you came to it?


IF: I decided to put the world of the story in South Dublin, essentially, about 6 square miles around my house, along the Dart line. It’s an area myself and Mark [Doherty] know very well. As well as that, it was important to me that this was not going to be a cancer film, I wanted it to be about a kid whose courage and appetite for life was extreme, but made more extreme by the fact that he knew his time was limited. That’s what really interested me.


You were working with very young characters and also a large element of the film involves illustration and animation. Can you tell me about some of the challenges involved?


IF: Dealing with young actors is always potentially difficult, so to cast the 15-year-old boy, we were very lucky to get Thomas Brodie-Sangster, because although he’s in his early twenties, he’s going on 80. He’s very wise, and is used to being on set, he knows how to conserve his energy and also when to have fun. He was a fantastic lead actor for us. His relationship with Andy Serkis’ character in the film is very strong, the two actors already knew each other and got on very well which really helped us, especially for those more intense scenes between the boy and his psychiatrist. When it came to the animation, I only wanted to use it as a storytelling tool; unless it was involved in telling the story, I wasn’t interested. The German animators had a lot of work done already as the film had been in development for a number of years. However, it was incredibly photo-realistic 3D imagery that was very advanced. It was amazing stuff, but my issue was that I couldn’t relate it to a 15-year-old kid. He was meant to have drawn this. So I had to get them to re-imagine it not as a gifted artist but as a very gifted teenager, and it was a bit of a battle as I was asking very accomplished artists to strip back their talent.


And how did the animation element affect your shooting?


IF: In some parts we were mixing animation with live-action, so you really have to plan those scenes. You need to have an effects supervisor and an animation supervisor on set, and we all have to be happy that we have everything we need in order to integrate it later. But with the pure animation sequences, we were able to hold off and look at the cut and see how it would work with what we had. We actually ended up needing less animation than we had thought before shooting.


What’s next for the film?


MG: Well, we started the festival run in Toronto and then took it to Rome. It was very well received at both festivals. It also won the audience award at the Des Arc festival, which is a really cool, trendy festival in France. Next it will be in the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and Dingle, and then we’re hoping for Irish and UK distribution towards the latter end of the year, and possibly North America.


 This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Issue 140 Spring 2012 published 6th February 2012.

 Read Stephen McNeice’s cinema review of Death of a Superhero here.



Cinema Review: Death of a Superhero

DIR: Ian Fitzgibbon • WRI: Anthony McCarten •PRO: Michael Garland, Astrid Kahmke, Philipp Kreuzer • DOP: Tom Fährmann • ED: Tony Cranstoun • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Andy Serkis, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Michael McElhatton, Sharon Horgan

Death of a Superhero follows Donald Clarke, played by Thomas Bodie-Sangster – teenager, comic-book artist and cancer patient. Donald’s concerned parents hire psychiatrist Dr. Aidan King (Andy Serkis) – who specialises in dealing with terminal patients – to try and get through to their increasingly angry & frustrated son. Initially, Donald has no time for this particular doctor, but King begins to employ some unusual tactics and the two form a sort of friendship. Meanwhile, Donald’s world is further complicated when new girl Shelly (Aisling Loftus) starts attending his school.

Death for a Superhero has a somewhat unusual production history. It’s based on a novel from New Zealand author Anthony McCarten, who was initially lined up to direct an adaptation. At some point, the Irish Film Board and local production company Grand Pictures hopped on board, soon followed by the German Bavaria Films. The setting was shifted to Ireland (specifically the areas surrounding the South Dublin DART line), and Ian Fitzgibbons took over directorial duties. German involvement – as well as the presence of Gollum himself – ensures the film is entrusted with a higher budget than most Irish productions enjoy.

The extra funds were utilised efficiently. It may be seem like faint praise, but Death of a Superhero is extremely, well, cinematic. It looks great, with director of photography Tom Fährmann consistently capturing compellingly moody images. The film has various animated flourishes in the form of straight comic book sequences, as well as a handful of scenes where Donald imagines his characters breaking through into the real world. These interludes are handled well, and help elaborate on our protagonist’s frame of mind without the need for clunkier storytelling shortcuts. It’s not exactly a subtle film, but it’s mostly thoughtfully directed by Fitzgibbons.

The film also benefits from a strong ensemble cast. Bodie-Sangster and Loftus particularly impress as the two star-crossed teens – both performances offer real depth. Strong support is provided by Michael McElhatton, Sharon Horgan and Ronan Raftery as Donald’s father, mother and brother – they each attempt to deal with Donald’s illness in very different and compelling ways. Serkis, meanwhile, doesn’t always have a lot to work with, but eventually the script allows him to build a potentially clichéd character into someone more intriguing.

Speaking of clichés, Death of a Superhero’s biggest problem by far is its inherent familiarity. Almost everything in the film – from the unconventional psychiatrist to the extended focus on Donald trying to loose his virginity – has been done before, and sometimes better. It’s always obvious how characters or ideas planted early on are going to recur later. The familiarity isn’t helped by the story’s similarities to last year’s 50/50 – while Superhero’s source material of course predates that particular film, it’s still sure to draw some comparisons.

Still, Death of a Superhero arguably manages to achieve a more effective tonal balance than 50/50 did, with comedy and drama blending together convincingly. Death of a Superhero also plumbs genuinely dark themes and depths – the audience is never allowed to forget the severity of Donald’s disease or that our hero is being forced to confront his own mortality. There’s little cheap sentimentality here. The film encourages the audience to make a real emotional connection with the characters, and there are several genuinely powerful moments throughout the film. The end product is, if not original, mostly affecting and distinctive.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
96 mins
Death of a Superhero is released on 30th November 2012


Read Paul Webster’s interview with producer Michael Garland and director Ian FitzGibbon from Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012 here



Ian FitzGibbon’s ‘Death of a Superhero’ released on 30th November


Director Ian FitzGibbon’s ( A Film With Me In It, Perrier’s Bounty, Paths to Freedom, Moone Boy) latest feature Death of a Superhero tells the story of fourteen-year-old Donald Clarke who after several cycles of chemotherapy feels he has little left to hope for. Worst of all, he might die a virgin! Based on the best-selling novel by Anthony McCarten Death of a Superhero is a poignant coming-of-age story addressing the most painful of circumstances alongside a rich and often humorous treatment of classic teen preoccupations.


With its innovative mix of live action and animation, Death of a Superhero  features stand-out performances from Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Nowhere Boy) and  Aisling Loftus (Oranges and Sunshine).


Speaking on the release, Director Ian FitzGibbon is thrilled that Irish audiences will have the opportunity to see my film on the big screen and hope that cinemagoers will be charmed with Donald’s life-affirming story.’


Produced by Michael Garland of Grand Pictures, Death of a Superhero has won a slew of awards across various film festivals including Special Jury Critics Award for Aisling Loftus at  Dublin International Film Festival, Young Jury Award at Leeds Young Peoples Film Festival and Public and Youth Public Award at Les Arcs, European Film Festival. Death of a Superhero was also selected to screen at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, The Tribeca Film Festival and The European Film Festival amongst many others.


Death of a Superhero is a German-Irish Co-Production between Bavaria Pictures and Grand Pictures, in Co-Production with Picture Circle, Cinemendo/Trixter and CinePostproduction in collaboration with Bavaria Film. Funded by FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, German Federal Film Board, Bayerischer Bankenfonds, German Federal Film Fund, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and Bord Scannán na hÉireann / The Irish Film Board.


Death of a Superhero wins Audience Award and ‘Special Mention’ of the Jury in Mamers-en-Mars European Film Festival

Enjoying rave reviews and following highly successful screenings in Toronto, Rome and the Dublin International Film Festival, Death of a Superhero has just won another award. Adding to the Audience Choice Prize and Young Jury Prize at Les Arcs European Film Festival and the Special Jury Award for Aisling Loftus during JDIFF, the film has won the Audience Award and ‘Special Mention’ of the Jury in Mamers-en-Mars European Film Festival.  Next up is the Young People’s Festival in Leeds (3rd of April) and the International Filmfest in Istanbul (8th of April).

Later this month the film will have its US premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.This will be followed immediately by its North American theatrical release.

 Death of a Superhero is due for release in Ireland later this year.

For further information please see http://www.grandpictures.ie/credits/superhero/superhero.html and https://www.facebook.com/DeathOfASuperheroFilm



Five Irish Films to Screen at Toronto International Film Festival

(Behold The Lamb)

A total of five films with a strong Irish connection will now screen at the Toronto International Film Festival which runs from September 8th-18th.

Among the latest films added to the line-up is John McIllduff’s Behold The Lamb which will screen as part of the Discovery section on the 11/12/16 September. Firmly lodged between slapstick and tragedy, Behold the Lamb follows a dodgy duo — rough, tough and pregnant junkie Liz (Aoife Duffin) and middle-aged loser Eddie (Nigel O’Neill) — as they course through the Northen Irish countryside en route to the weirdest score of their lives.

Behold the Lamb is produced by Kevin Jackson through Northern Ireland Screen’s Ultra Low Budget Feature Scheme.

Also screening is Rebecca Daly’s The Other Side of Sleep which will have its North American premiere also in the Discovery section.  The Other Side of Sleep, which screened as part of the presitgous Directors Fortnight in Cannes in May this year, tells the story of the story of Arlene, a sleepwalker in a rural Irish town. Arlene wakes in the woods beside the body of a young woman, and finds herself drawn to the victim’s grieving family. Arlene begins to barricade herself in at night, not allowing herself to sleep. But as her emotional turmoil grows, reality and sleeping begin to blur.

It was produced by Morgan Bushe Colony and MacDara Kelleher The Runway of Fastnet Films and filmed on location in Offaly last year. It is written by Rebecca Daly and Glenn Montgomery Joyriders.

Behold the Lamb and The Other Side of Sleep join Irish director Ian Fitzgibbon’s Death Of A Superhero, aswell as Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries and Albert Nobbs which stars Glenn Close both of which were shot in Ireland.

Fore more information on Behold The Lamb click here