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April 13, 2010


2009, Dir. by Peter Stebbings.

Superhero movies have always been a safe haven for me, from both entertainment and psychological standpoints. As a young adult, I always felt the urge to do something positive for society, to help resist the forces that often cause trouble for all of us. These movies have, when not poorly made, offered up a reminder of the power that action can have in our society, and reminded me of the strength that lies in positive intentions. Luckily for me, I'm (mostly) sane and know the difference between fiction and reality, and thus left the fight to others while choosing a profession that keeps me involved with those in need in a safe environment. If I weren't (mostly) sane, I might have ended up like Defendor.

Despite a funky trailer that seemed to promise Woody Harrelson would continue his tough guy antics from Zombieland, one needs to be cautioned before going in search of Defendor. This is not a goofy action/comedy, and in fact it's a film that left me wondering if I should even review it here. (But, for your sake, I am. Because I'm awesome.)

Instead of offering a comic action plot, Defendor plays like an independent character study, introducing us to Arthur Poppington, a hero who answers to his own calling. Instead of that, I could say that he's a hero who's highly delusional and probably a hero that most people wouldn't feel comfortable having on their streets.

But lets roll with the first explanation, for the sake of not turning Defendor into a terribly sad story. Arthur/Defendor is a man who was raised by a prostitute (until she died from a drug overdose), never knew his father, and only received a bit of parenting from an aging shopkeeper and the pages of comic books. Now, he's a middle aged man (how he lasted that long is a mystery to me), and has only a couple friends - his boss (Michael Kelly) and a young prostitute (Kat Dennings). All he remembers from his youth is that "Captain Industry" is responsible for his mother's demise, and he's determined to clean up the city that took her from him.

There's a romantic and tragic feeling that emanates from the core of Defendor, which is slowly paced by first-time director Peter Stebbings with a focus on developing Arthur as a sympathetic individual. For the most part the film succeeds at this, thanks to Harrelson's ability to play the role with a straight face and some strong cross-cutting between scenes of Defendor in action and scenes where he's being interviewed by a psychologist played by Sandra Oh. We know by the midpoint of the film that Defendor is not the iconic hero we're used to, as he struggles to deal with his equipment often and fares as poorly in battle as is humanly possible.

Defendor struggles through the final act, as we continue to see the man beaten down to a point that it becomes near painful to the viewer. The final impression left by the film keeps with the rest of the film's tone, and there are few heroic moments that would lift one's spirit in regard to Defendor's heroic quest.

I quite admire Defendor as a film. It's content with marching to its own beat, telling its own story, and creating a world that's emotionally captivating with a real-life character. It most definitely is not the film advertised, and I'm sure many looking for a cheap laugh will be sorely disappointed by the dark tone of the film. While I do recommend Defendor as the first superhero film I've seen that feels like an independent drama (at its best, it's Kick-Ass meets Marnie), beware that you're not going to get what the previews sell you.

As for me, I'm gonna go back to embracing my safe role as a helper of others, and remember Defendor as a cautionary tale about good intentions that come from bad mindsets.


R.D. Penning said...

Nice review Mike. I have been looking to see this for a while now. I need to check it out.

Chainsaw Jack said...

I had not even heard about this, sounds good even though I'm not a Woody fan (unintentional snicker).