PLOT: Arthur Poppington is a man who has the mind of a young, innocent child. But when he puts on his black outfit with a D, he becomes a self invented hero… he calls himself Defendor. And no, that is not a spelling error, at least that is how Arthur spells it, just don’t tell him he is wrong. While he seems to be doing a noble thing, he is incredibly inept as this “superhero” and he makes a few enemies that are way out of his league. But with the help of a young prostitute, he goes after a major bad guy, with the hopes of freeing the world from the clutches of “Captain Industry”.
Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) is a man who has too long been mistreated by the world around him. He has grown used to insults, personal attacks and mean, hurtful people. But not when he dons a black sweater with electrical tape in the shape of a D on his chest. He transforms. You see, every night, Arthur becomes “Defendor”, but don’t correct him on the spelling, you’ll strike a bit of a nerve if you do. The Defendor is a super hero Arthur has created, who is looking to bring down “Captain Industry” and save mankind from evil doers. And when this hero attempts to save a young girl named Kat (Kat Dennings) from a bad man named Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas), he begins to make some new, and dangerous enemies. But this is not simply a story of good and bad, and it is not a slam bang action blockbuster. This is a deconstruction of the superhero myth that explores the deep rooted sadness and pain that a “hero” must deal with. It’s also darkly funny too.
After watching Defendor, I had mixed feelings about it. There is something going on deep inside, as the film moves from therapy sessions with a court appointed doctor (Sandra Oh), to the men that Defendor makes life a little complicated for. And then there is the romantic angle. But more important then all of that is the mental capacity of Harrelson’s Poppington. While we are never told exactly what his diagnosis would be, he is socially inept and can barely function in society. He has one friend named Paul (Michael Kelly) whom he and his family have taken a liking to Arthur. But sadly, like so many people in our society, Arthur is not accepted by most and has found refuge in his alter ego. In fact, he believes whole-heartedly that he has the power to stop evil doers, but the sad truth is, he just isn't the super hero type (or is he?). Clearly he has no special powers, but he has a flair for using marbles and wasps.
In case you are wondering, this isn’t BLANKMAN. Not even close. Sure there are several humorous moments as Defendor tries to fight crime and comes up looking anything but heroic. The reaction that he receives from some of the perpetrators is priceless. But that is really only the beginning. The more we learn about Arthur, the more heartbreaking this is. And thankfully, actor turned director Peter Stebbings keeps the humor very dark and never looses sight on what is going on deep inside of Arthur’s mind. But it is Harrelson who gives another impressive performance as the frightened and misguided man-child. When he is acting the hero, you are somehow more terrified for the outcome. He stands tall, but deep down underneath the painted on black mask, you see his fear of failure… or worse. It is a complex and very sincere performance that gives the film its soul.
As good of a job that Peter Stebbings does here, there is one thing that bothered me throughout the film. I would never call this boring, but I sometimes felt that the momentum would be lost thanks to the films odd pacing. The way some of it fits together feels odd and slow. With so many moving, funny and even frightening moments, it was sometimes disappointing to feel the flow of the film meander. This was especially true when it would move back and forth to the therapy sessions. Still, the heart of Defendor is not lost because of it. The story is engrossing enough, as are the performances, that I didn’t mind the occasional slowness. What works, works very well. I liked this character and I found his story very moving and yes, it is funny, just not in the way that you may expect.
Maybe it is the age we are living in, but this breaking down of a mythical character like a superhero seems to be very telling. The idea of not simply an everyman, but somebody with a disability trying to fight back against the evil in the world is very intriguing. It makes you wonder how many of us, living in this big bad world, looking inside ourselves want to do something great. But how many would actually go out and do it, to hell with consequence. Defendor raises so many thoughts and ideas about how far should we go to right a wrong. And thanks to a touching performance from Harrleson, we can have a little insight on the pain and fear that comes with doing something special to help another. My rating 7.5/10 -- JimmyO