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‘Defendor’ of the faith

2010/06/02

There’s a couple of things I should just put out there before we start.  The first is, I am, by birth, a comic geek – I dug them when I was five, I like them even more at thirty-nine.  I think it has to do with the tradtionally black-and-white identification of good versus bad, but it could just as easilybe that I like bright colors.  The latter is more likely it, thinking about it now….anyway, the other thing to fess up about up front is that, until recently, I’ve never understood the success of Woody Harrelson.  I don’t dislike the guy, but I’ve never seen much unique about the guy.

However, this past year may have changed that opinion.  I loved the guy in Zombieland, but that seemed grooved right down the middle of his wheelhouse.  Nonetheless, it was enough for me to take a shot at this more certainly more ‘indie’ offering from last year.

As much as I am partial to comic-properties-on-the-silver-screen, I seem even more attracted to ‘deconstruction of the medium’ when thrown out to the theaters.  I found Watchmen highly captivating, and a very effective translation of the themes, tones and messages contained in the original, rightly revered, printed work.  Unbreakable, is my favorite movie, bar none, and I remain enraptured with it’s primary question:  ‘What if Superman didn’t know he was Superman, and when he found out he didn’t want to be?’.

Defendor ventures into similar territory, instead asking a different layered question:  ‘What if Batman wasn’t a child of high intelligence and infinite means when his parents died?’  Or perhaps more telling, what if the insanity within Batman came first?

Such is the story of Arthur Poppington, played by Harrelson.  Arthur is a low-IQ, semi-employed pure-hearted man whose life has been shaped by the death of his mother at a young age – but she was no socialite, just another junkie on the streets of a city that is seemingly overrun with them.  Raised not by a cultured butler, but a dissatisfied grandfather, Arthur is now a guy who holds the stop sign on a road construction crew, at least on days when he’s up to working, and living in a makeshift apartment inside a DOT warehouse, his Batcave in no uncertain parallel.

For Arthur’s true mission in life is justice for his dead mother, the pursuit of which is traveled through the guise of Defendor, his unrelenting alter ego who is driven to become a knight of the night.  There’s no Batmobile, but instead a jury-rigged old extension-ladder truck the road crews no longer use.  Defendor’s armor consists of a duct-taped logo on a turtleneck, eye black, and a helmet equipped with toy ‘spy gear’ lights and a camera that feeds a VHS recorder on his back.  His utility belt contains no grappling hooks or batarangs, but marbles and jars filled with angry hornets.  And he loses as many fights as he wins.

Unlike an offering like this year’s KickAss, this story isn’t explosive, fun or exploitative.  Defendor is fighting his fight in a dirty part of this world, with his only friends being his foreman on the road crew and a crack-addicted lost girl named Kat (Kat Dennings) who is stealing from Arthur more than she is helping him track down ‘Captain Industry’, Defendor’s never-seen (nor truly existing) arch-enemy.  This is a gritty, ugly corner of the planet, and Arthur fights his fight with really only the purity of his heart maintaining his constant drive.

The story is framed within Arthur’s psychological evaluation by a court-appointed psychiatrist, played by the traditionally unwatchable Sandra Oh.  Could have been played by anybody, really, since the character is simply a storytelling device – so big points for that choice. 

For clarification’s sake, this movie seems to be listed almost everywhere as a ‘comedy’.  This is not even close – there aren’t a lot of laughs in here, nor were there intended to be, if anything, this is a straight-ahead drama in an offbeat setting, but because this isn’t a DC or Marvel character, but there are costumes, I assume the marketing team just didn’t bother watching it, saw the costume and said ‘this must be funny’.  While not as affecting or introspective as Unbreakable, Defendor has it’s charms and tells it’s tale in a very captivating manner, though the general subject matter certainly isn’t for everybody.  Worth your time, though not a lot of re-watchability here.  4 out of 7

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One Comment leave one →
  1. zacknorton permalink
    2010/06/10 11:37 pm

    more super heros should go with Duct taped insignia’s… don’t you think?

    Woody was pretty likable in Zombieland, even though his character was a bastard. I imagine that Defendor is straight to the Netflix streaming section…? Or did they actually press dvd’s?

    Can’t wait to see Mystery Team. Thanks Mr.P.

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