Dir: Peter Stebbings
A vigilante hero film that felt for me like a cross between ‘Kick-Ass’ and 2006’s ‘Special’.
I like Superhero films a lot, and in recent years the trend has been towards films that feature people without superpowers but that have the desire to be heroes anyway. At one end of the spectrum you have Bruce Wayne transforming himself with the use of huge wealth into Batman, and then at the other there’s this, with Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) becoming ‘Defendor’
Arthur is a man who has lower than average intelligence, but a big heart. Inspired by the comics he read as a child, and the loss of his mother to drugs, he goes out at night in unusual garb in the guise of ‘Defendor’, essentially taking on lowlifes and pimps, beating them with a wooden club. One night he meets young prostitute Kat (Kat Dennings) and administers a beating to her pimp, who happens to be an undercover cop. This puts Arthur into a complex situation with the law and the criminals, but he’s determined to stop a local drug lord, and protect his new friend Kat, no matter the cost.
This film has some moments that are surprisingly dark, it’s not a light-hearted comedy, and although there are moments of great humour there’s still a strong underlying sense that the lead character due to his understanding of the world, and the way he behaves, is severely misguided. However, it’s his compassionate way that is the key to the whole thing, and in scenes in which he’s talking to a court-appointed psychiatrist (Sandra Oh) we find out more about him and are moved by his story and motivation.
A few years ago, I watched a film called ‘Special’ starring Michael Rappaport as a man who while on an experimental drug test begins to develop super-powers, however it’s just hallucinations and he’s not got powers at all. This film reminded me of that one a lot, not least by the way in which both took just one key character and instead of putting the focus on action and their taking down ‘bad guys’ like a film such as ‘Kick-Ass’ does, it draws on the emotion aspects of the story, why they want so badly to be heroes.
‘Defendor’ isn’t a perfect film, but it got dark comedy just right in that things were funny but laughs were not gained at the expense of the real emotional heart of the story. He’s no Kick-Ass and nor does he try to be, he’s no teen boy wanting to look cool and make a name for himself, Arthur is just a man who wants to do some good and help people, which he does.