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Defendor

Defendor Poster

There's a new hero walking the dark streets of Hammer Town -- he is Defendor. His archenemy is the nefarious Captain Industry. With no super powers (or combat skills) this lone hero defends the weak and the helpless. He doesn't use guns ("Guns are for cowards."), relying on a WWI trench club to mete out his own brand of street justice.

By day he is Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson), a construction worker with an I.Q. in the 80 point range.

Defendor is a compelling mix of comedy and drama, exploring what it really means to be a hero.

Harrelson is great as Arthur, a man with a heroic heart but with a childlike intellect. He dresses up in a black sweater and pants, and decorates the front of his sweater with duct tape forming a clumsy-looking letter 'D'. Where Batman would have a utility belt, Defendor has a small jar filled with four or five wasps, a slingshot, his trench club and mail-order nightvision goggles. When interrogating evil-doers he squirts lime juice into their eyes.

His idea of a plan is to provoke criminals while they are harassing a victim, making some lame heroic comments and then promptly running away. Defendor is routinely pounded senseless, until one night a teenage hooker named 'Kat' peels him off the pavement and crashes at his secret lair.

Defendor starts off as a comedy and slowly evolves into a serious crime drama. Arthur's friendly (and completely platonic) relationship with 'Kat' is interesting because of their contrasting yet similar problems. Where Arthur is innocent, Kat surely is not. She initially introduces herself as 'Angel' and pulls off her streetwalking wig. She also smokes crack.

Arthur innocently asks why she does drugs, after blithely saying, "that stuff is bad." Kat quickly retorts by saying, "Why do you dress up as a retarded superhero?" Ignoring the fact that the question was meant as an insult, Arthur answers that when he dresses up as Defendor he can be smart, brave and powerful. They both have their own self-destructive ways of escaping who they are.

The film slowly reveals Arthur's history through an interview with his court-appointed psychiatrist (Suzie Oh) and it becomes more and more clear why Arthur would try to be a superhero. When Defendor sets his sights on taking down the mysterious 'Captain Industry' the film becomes more dramatic as the physical stakes become higher. Throw in a corrupt vice cop and an underworld boss and Defendor gets in over his head.

The acting from everyone here is great, and the soundtrack is surprisingly good. The heroic anthem for Defendor sounds like your standard heroic trilling, but it's just slightly (intentionally) off-key, giving it a jittery feel -- the way you would feel (should feel) if you were to watch someone about to do something very stupid and dangerous. It feels like you're watching one of the endless YouTube videos of people trying to slalom with a shopping cart or perform a backflip with no training.

Defendor comes across as a splicing of last year's Kick-Ass with Forest Gump, but without the really hardcore violence of the former and retaining the sense of heroism and innocence in the latter film. It's a great film -- simplistic at times, like the titular hero, but still moving. In the end it shows that being heroic has nothing to do with wearing a mask, or being good at fighting, etc. It's about standing up for others, and how the act of heroism is often counterintuitive and irrational.

This idea is best summed up when Arthur's friend discovers that he was beaten up on one of his nightly battles and takes him to a hospital. His wife and son show up, and while Arthur is being patched up the mother asks her son what he's learned from all this.

"Bring a gun next time?"

The father laughs but the mother is not amused. She insists, "Fighting never solves any problems." The father says, "Yeah, but sometimes you need --" and is immediately shut down by the wife. The son asks, "But... it's okay to fight if you're trying to save someone, right?"

Movie Rating: 
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