and Clark Johnson
The superhero genre is riding on a fair high at the moment, with the Marvel and DC heroes all making appearances in their respective films, films that range from the awesome (Hulk, X-Men: The Last Stand) to the truly awful (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2) - wait, did I get that the right way round?
These films tend to cover exceptional individuals gifted with abilities that set them apart from the norm, Spider-Man has some kind of genetic ju-ju that powers his physical strength and then another suit that turns him into an Emo.
Superman on the other hand has a whole range of abilities, the core of which is being a colossal jerk and even 'ordinary man' Bruce Wayne has the super power of being mega ridiculously rich.
But, if you span back far enough you reach a different kind of superhero film, I of course refer to the most excellent Mystery Men. A film that deals with a lower key kind of superhero, those one step above 'the man on the street'.
Well the Canadian born movie Defendor has echoes of Mystery Men in it's construction, and along with it's showboating compatriot Kick-Ass the film deals with a more honest form of superhero, a man who has nothing more than his natural abilities as a human, marbles, wasps and a whole lot of heart.
Woody Harrelson stars as the titular Defendor/Arthur Poppington, a kind hearted but slow man by day and a masked vigilante by night. Defendor uses a catapult, marbles, jars of wasps and his grandfather's trench club in his tireless search for 'Captain Industry', the man who killed his mother.
Despite the subject matter of costumed avengers Defendor is an exceptionally low key movie, Arthur casts a stark contrast when compared against any of the more typical superheroes. He's a below average man of limited intellect who dons the persona of Defendor as a way of escaping from himself. His optimism and determination are pretty much all that keeps him going out onto the streets time and time again. There's no high level heroics, there's no dodging of bullets, there's just one very ordinary man doing extra ordinary things.
Comparisons to Kick-Ass are pretty much inevitable when you're looking at Defendor, but I honestly prefer Defendor. Kick-Ass is a film that may have originally had some real intent behind it's message (maybe), but Defendor wins out due to it's exceptional heart, sad story of a lonely man seeking to connect with a world that looks down on him and the powerhouse performance that Woody Harrelson brings to the screen.
Woody is no stranger to playing "lesser intellect" characters, as he's often taken the role of the below average man in the past, but this takes nothing away from his time on screen as Arthur/Defendor. He delivers a scorchingly painful performance that is both touching and funny. It would be easy to make Arthur seem like a character worthy of nothing more than comedic effect and pity, but Woody rounds out Arthur and makes you engage with him as a human being.
As the story unfolds Defendor meets a prostitute (Kat Dennings), who draws him into a conflict by revealing the location of Captain Industry. He spends time interacting with the always awesome Clark Johnson (Police Captain Fairbanks), hunting after and tangling with a rogue police officer (Elias Koteas) and being interviewed by a psychiatric (Sandra Oh) after he assaults a man in broad daylight. Defendor has his share of successes and failures during the course of the movie, nothing comes easy to him but he shines out as much as he falls behind.
Defendor is an exceptional movie with a great deal going for it. It's able to make you laugh and feel sad at the same time, it can engage you both viscerally and intellectually and it has a meaningful story with a real point to it. Add to this the driving powerhouse that is Woody's performance and you have an enjoyable movie that will stay with you after it has finished.