Over the past few years, we have been treated to, well, a glut of Superhero films – a lot good, a lot bad, a lot forgettable. And while most of them have been based on pre-existing comic book and television properties, there have been a few that feature all new heroes battling all new villains. The best of these have taken what I like to call “The Watchmen Approach”, whereby the world they inhabit is more real and less fantastical. You generally won’t see guys and gals flying around, changing into metal, bursting into flames, that sort of thing. What you will see, is regular folk being inspired by comic book heroics, putting on a costume (usually of very poor quality) and fighting the bad guys with whatever is at hand. And usually, it doesn’t work out that well for them. This is one of those films. Today’s film is Defendor.
Coming out before the film that it has been most compared to, Kick-Ass; Defendor is the story of another real life guy who takes on the mantle of superhero and soon comes to realise that it’s not all sunshine and roses, more ass kickings and scary dudes with guns. And, unlike Kick-Ass’ Hit Girl and Big Daddy, there is noone better at the job to help you when things get tough. And, if you go into something like this with nothing but the best intentions and your retard strength, then you will most likely end up in a psych ward.
Defendor tells the tale of Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson), a somewhat charming and likeable…how to put this…borderline retard (so he has the strength going for him, at least) who has taken up the guise of Defendor, champion of the streets, in a quest to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of Captain Industry (a construct who exists only in Arthur’s head). Armed only with the barest, and sometimes silliest, of weapons (including his handy trench club, truck from his daytime work, marbles, lime juice and jars of wasps – trust me on those last two), he seems to very ineffectually clean up the streets, winding up on the wrong end of both serious beatings and the law every time he tangles with bad guys. Soon, he gets tangled with a dirty cop (Elias Koteas) and befriends a teenage streetwalker (Kat Dennings), who nurses him back to health after having the crap beat out of him by some hoodlums and convinces Defendor that her pimp, Radovan, is Captain Industry.
What you come to notice about this film, and especially Arthur’s actions, is that it knows that 9 times out of 10, superhero actions and heroics would get you beaten severely and thrown in the nuthatch. And that is precisely what happens, with the film even opening with Arthur talking to a doctor provided by the city about what bought him to be sitting on her couch (this is about the halfway point of the actual story, though). His heart is in the right place, but he is too innocent to know that the world really isn’t a black and white comic book place – putting on a costume and throwing wasps at the bad guy will only get you beaten, shot or worse.
While Woody Harrelson does (as always) give a pretty darn good performance as Arthur/Defendor, a comparison piece on this and Kick Ass raised a couple of good points towards the line of thinking that Defendor is a far scarier character than you first think. Given the fact that Arthur is both mentally ill and has comic book delusions, it would be quite easy for the wrong person to convince him that his so-called nemesis is anyone – and in fact, it is that manipulation that gets him into the mess he eventually finds himself in.
All in all, Defendor was an OK watch, but nothing I really need to revisit. I basically had it on as background noise and was still able to follow it well enough to write a review.