Defendor

Everybody needs help. Even superheroes.

Kick-Ass is a story about a kid who decides to become a superhero. All he has is a wetsuit and a couple of sticks. He gets the shit kicked out of him and loses the ability to feel pain. Then he meets the no-more-powerful (but on an exponentially higher plane of crazy) father/daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Hijinks ensue. Most of you have probably seen Kick-Ass by now, or have at least heard about it. I’m not here to talk about Kick-Ass. I’m here to talk about it’s spiritual brother: the little seen Defendor.

A man decides he is a superhero. He has a homemade costume and some nifty gadgets, and goes up against the local crime lord. There, all similarity ends. Kick-Ass is a cartoon; Defendor is joyously, horribly, painfully real.

Woody Harrelson leads the film as Arthur Poppington, a mentally challenged man raised by his grandfather after his prostitute mother left and, later, died. Arthur never really learned to read well as a child but loved comic books. His entire moral outlook was shaped by the heroes he read about. As a man, he works for the city’s Public Works department under the supervision of Paul Carter. Paul and his family have adopted Arthur to a certain degree after Arthur saved Paul’s son from being hit by a car. Paul, played by Michael Kelly, is Arthur’s best friend cum surrogate father, but knows nothing about his other life as Defendor.

The first half of the movie is Arthur telling his story to Sandra Oh’s court-appointed psychiatrist after his arrest. It is up to her to recommend whether he is fit to stand trial on an assault charge after dumping the owner of a dry-cleaning shop into a rubbish bin. The dry-cleaner is the father of Kat Dennings’ character (also called Kat), a crack-addicted hooker working for a Serbian mafia kingpin. Kat comes to Defendor’s aid after a particularly severe beating at the hands of the kingpin’s pet cop Dooney and his thugs. She takes him home and cleans him up, and his courage and childish innocence begin to have an effect on her.

As a child, Arthur’s grandfather told him that it wasn’t the pimps and druggies and hookers that were the problem with the world. It was the pushers and the “captains of industry” that were ultimately to blame for his mother leaving. Filtered through the years and his comic-book-fixated mind, these captains of industry became Captain Industry, Defendor’s nemesis. After telling Kat about his quest, she senses a way out of her difficulties and tells Arthur that Captain Industry is probably Radovan Kristic – the Serbian. With Kat’s help, Defendor tries to bring down Captain Industry once and for all. The second half of the flick is the build-up to this showdown.

When I first put this disc in I was expecting a comedy, but it is really not. It has its moments of humour, but the movie is really about one guy who “isn’t all there, upstairs” and how he wants to help the world around him be better. Arthur isn’t resigned to the shit the way everyone else is, and Defendor is his way of standing up for those who need it.

The flick was the debut of writer/director Peter Stebbings who, as an actor, has built a pretty decent career on Canadian and US television with the odd feature thrown in. He’s assembled a good cast here led by Harrelson and Dennings, with solid support from Oh and Elias Koteas as the sleazy, crooked cop Dooney. The man just oozes nastiness from every pore. Michael Kelly plays Paul in a similarly under-stated but strong-willed fashion to his Detective Ybarra in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (one of the best parts of that movie as far as I’m concerned) and Clark Johnson pulls his weight with limited screen-time as Defendor’s Lt. Gordon, Captain Fairbanks.

More people need to see this film. It’s sweet, exciting, funny and if you can get to the end without a tear trickling down your cheek, then you’re a stronger man than me.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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