Defendor (2009)

I thought this was going to be comedy. I think most people will probably be disappointed with the fact that it really is not, but I’m not. This is a very rare product; a reality-based superhero movie. With all the over-saturation of superhero type movies lately, it’s nice to see a story like this that is not adapted from a comic-book.
Woody Harrelson continues to impress me with his growth as an actor (a lesser actor would fail at the subtleties that make this an interesting performance). He plays Arthur Poppington, a man who is “not all there upstairs,” who puts on a self-made uniform at night and protects whoever needs help from the ‘bad guys’. This is not Kick-Ass. It is not some fetishized comic-book romp. Defendor has its share of zaniness, but for the most part it is a straight take on the genre. Somewhat real characters in real (movie) situations.
At one point in the film, Arthur is required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The psychologist (Sandra Oh) makes a keen observation that most people like him because he is always honest. His worldview is unclouded by society; he lives in a very black-and-white ethical dimension. Lying is bad. Drugs are bad. Hurting people is bad, unless, of course, you are fighting back to save others.

I’m not sure why this movie resonated so much with me. The film takes a laughable, seemingly cliched premise loaded with opportunity for ridicule and irony and approaches it in a very simple, straight-forward way. Arthur/Defendor is given a clear origin for his crime-fighting motivation (spoiler withheld) and he will stop-at-nothing to find “Captain Industry” and bring him to Justice. And there are some relatively ingenious, low-tech ways he uses.

If anything the movie may veer into slight Forrest Gump territory in places (sans conservative political diatribes) using Arthur’s lack of insight as an excuse to move the plot forward quickly, but this is a genre film with its own limiting scope. Kat Dennings seems to be stretching here, with a couple of genuinely emotional scenes, but there something I can’t really figure out that hinders believing that she connects with the character relationship completely.
I definitely recommend this as an antidote to all those ‘wanna-be superhero movies’ that don’t quite live up. It’s not a masterpiece, but its a great character-driven piece that is, while indebted to its genre, relatively original in its conception. And, aside from everything else, this movie has Elias Koteas (always one of my favorites, even if he doesn’t have much to do here).


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