Defendor (Review)


Written and directed by Peter Stebbings

Oh, there will be spoilers. So don’t read if you don’t like them.

Defendor – “Fight Back!”

When I first heard of Defendor, it was word of mouth describing Woody Harrelson running around as a super-hero with a duck taped “D” on his shirt. But the film is much more than just some guy as a low-rent superhero. It is a twist on the superhero mythos as well as a semi-realistic take on what a real life “superhero” would be. A guy who isn’t all there upstairs but has his heart in the right place. Most comic inspired films don’t have the same sweet sadness feel of Defendor.

Oh, let’s get this out of the way…

Arthur Poppington / Defendor (Woody Harrelson) – Woody Harrelson is one of the great underrated actors of our times and delivers another great performance as Arthur Poppington and as Defendor. That’s Defendor! He’s got duck tape, marbles, and wasps. Eat your heart out, Batman!
Kat Debrofkowitz (Kat Dennings) – Hooker who ends up crashing at Arthur’s place after they continually cross paths under his guise as Defendor. At first, she is using him, but learns to love the big dope.
Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas) – Crooked cop whose nasty deeds means he and Defendor run into each other often, especially when Defendor becomes convinced his crook boss is the evil Captain Industry. It’s enough to make a guy want to become a masked vigilante and pal around with some mutated turtles.
Paul Carter (Michael Kelly) – A friend of Arthur’s and his boss at work. Spends most of the film trying to get Arthur out of jams.
Dr. Ellen Park (Sandra Oh) – Psychiatrist appointed by the courts to determine if Arthur is fit to stand trial. Helps set the narrative structure.
Captain Fairbanks (Clark Johnson) – Local police Captain who becomes the Commissioner Gordon for Defendor.

The majority of the film is told in a flashback fashion as an incarcerated Arthur Poppington talks to to Dr. Ellen Park about his strange journey as Defendor.

Arthur Poppington is a slow-witted man who spends his day working on city construction crews and his nights searching the streets for “Captain Industry” while dressed as the guise of Defendor. Defendor is armed with a black greasepaint mask, helmet, a World War I-era trenchclub, and a vcr on his backpack taping his adventures. His special weapons is a converted city truck with glitchy voice commands (dubbed the “Defen-dog”), marbles, jars of wasps, and the gruff Batman voice like Christian Bale had in Dark Knight.

We know off the bat that Arthur isn’t the brightest bulb when he leaps off a roof into an empty dumpster, painfully reminding himself afterwards to remember when garbage day is. Defendor then stumbles across crooked cop Chuck Dooney about to get a job involving a lot of blowing from teenage girl of the night Kat, and interrupts. That earns Defendor a spot on the police radio, and soon he’s arrested and has his first meeting with Captain Fairbanks.

But Defendor is back on the streets and is later beaten up by some of the gang that Dooney runs with, called simply the Bikers. He is cleaned up by Kat, when then ends up shacking up at Arthur’s place, mostly because she has nowhere else to go, being a runaway drug-addicted prostitute. She’s also using Arthur by taking some of his stuff to sell and feeding him false information about this Captain Industry he is looking for, telling him the location of a random bad drug dude she knows. By late in the film, she comes to care about Arthur, and is no longer using him but trying to protect him.

Arthur is not without real friends, Paul Carter is a boss of his at work that is also especially close with him, for reasons not really explained well in the film. I thought he was his brother for much of it, but a story about how Arthur saved Paul’s son from a car is given later, but it still doesn’t explain how much Paul looks out for Arthur. I guess he is just a very good friend, the kind we wish we all had several of.

Defendor’s patrols keep him as a constant thorn in the side of Dooney and the Biker gang. Eventually, the boss of the gang gets annoyed enough that Defendor is targeted. But when Defendor is shot after another confrontation with the gang, it is by the undercover cop in the gang who uses rubber bullets. This has two bad effects, one makes Arthur think he is impervious to bullets, the other gets the undercover cop and his surveillance team killed when the bad guys find out Defendor didn’t die.

Eventually, you find out Defendor is talking before Dr. Park because he was arrested after beating up a man who turned out to be Kat’s father, who molested her. The judge is convinced to let Arthur go, but only if he won’t become Defendor again. By now, Defendor has become the talk of the town and even has a mural painted by a graffitti artist Defendor saved from the Biker gang earlier in the film.

Kat is grabbed by the baddies and used as leverage so Defendor won’t spoil their upcoming shipment of drugs and arms and women, as they can’t kill him until the press dies down a bit. But, Arthur is still Defendor in spirit, and soon dresses up to go save Kat, who it turns out didn’t need saving as she saved herself right when he arrives. Arthur goes to confront the Biker gang leader and his men by the docks, after warning Captain Fairbanks. Kat tries to get him not to go, but Defendor can’t just stand by and do nothing. He manages to stop the nameless gang thugs by various marble and wasp-based attacks, but the leader of the Bikers isn’t going to fall for such ploys. He coldly guns down Defendor, but their victory is short-lived as the cops have arrived thanks to Defendor’s warning and the baddies are captured. Newspaper clippings kept by the now clean and a writer Kat tell the story of how the bad guys all went to trial and were jailed, while the Defendor mural becomes a memorial.

Overall, I thought the film was well done. It is not like most superhero flicks, and even the recent ones where ordinary people become superheroes all have different tones. And it doesn’t have a jetpack out of nowhere. The flashback structure with Dr. Park and the various radio voiceovers seem like they may have been added near the end of production to help frame the story better or to secure more funding by getting another name actor in.

The main problem with Defendor is the pacing. We have become accustomed to longer superhero films, but Defendor isn’t filled with action packed scenes and must focus on the drama and story to keep people interested. It does a good job overall, but there are places that could probably have been shortened down a bit. It is not a major flaw. The tone of the film could also be a deterrent to some people, many just want a face-paced action fest and care not for anything else. If you are one of those people, Defendor will bore you to tears. But if you aren’t, you will probably think it’s pretty damn good.

Rated 8/10 (Crack time, tape time, escape time, M-O-O-N spells Defendor, punched up, This sign is insulting Defen–Oh just his job…, mob boss time, Ripping off Watchmen now???)

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One thought on “Defendor (Review)

  1. Nice one, man. You pretty much nailed this one to a wall. Sad to see it hasn’t gotten as much press as it shold’ve – if Nolan had directed it, it would’ve probably won Oscars. Woody would’ve been a shoe-in, and Kat Dennings would’ve deserved the nod, no matter who actually won it. Best Hooker with a Heart of Gold since Paula Malcomson’s Trixie.

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