Plot: Hapless and mentally insufficient road-worker Arthur (Woody Harrelson) adopts a fake super-hero persona in order to bring down Captain Industry, the evil over-ruler of all crime and deviance; or so he would have us believe.
Thoughts: At the turn of the millennium, cinema was christened with a new breed of super-hero movies. With the likes of Bryan Singer’s ‘X-Men’ leading the pack, we were later subjected to Raimi’s ‘Spiderman’ and Nolan’s ‘Batman’ series, forcing forward a much more modern and realistic take on the classically camp comic-book heroes of the past. So it was no surprise that within 10 years, a brand new and excitingly fresh (just about) sub-genre exploded onto our screens, that of the DIY hero. With the action driven powerhouse that was Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kick-Ass’ sliding in a cheeky first, followed later by James Gunn’s much more personal and darkly comic ‘SUPER’, this oddly real new take on the costumed vigilantes we all worshipped as children was beginning to dominate cinema screens across the globe. Often small in budget and independent in their approach, this impressively contemporary sub-genre has so far been populated with nothing but fantastically distinct and intuitive features; so when another of this breed finds its way across the pond, are we right to question it’s validity? In Defendor’s case, almost certainly so.
Although ‘Defendor’ follows the same basic plot-line as many of its kind, it manages to distance itself from the others rather well, firing us straight into the thick of Arthur’s war on crime, no origin needed. However different this makes ‘Defendor’ in tone during its opening, it plays a horrific part in the film’s eventual demise as we have nothing to base our opinions upon, nothing to chew on whilst the rather stocky and unstable Harrelson prances across roof tops and wails on shady looking characters. As the story unfolds rather dimly, we’re thrown unconsciously into the life of the clearly defective Arthur, his ambitiously thoughtless attempts at stopping crime painting a clearly troubling portrait of his simple-minded character. Expanding his horizons further, Arthur is soon met by an exceptionally feeble minded former prostitute dragged down deeper into the depths of irritation by the painfully moronic Kat Dennings, who is essentially Kat Dennings, but this time addicted to crack and by the looks of it, crack that has no effect on the human condition what so ever.
Harrelson’s portrayal of mental sad-sack Arthur is however, tremendous, allowing him to be the true hero of the piece, his performance allowing deep emotional layers to form over the top of writer/director Peter Stebbings’ rather hollow character. Elias Koteas floats in his best Robert DeNiro impression as a rather misguided officer of the law, although his final standing amongst the criminal underworld is never fully understood. Sandra Oh provides plenty of semi-decent support as Arthur’s psychiatrist, but only popping up for short segments at a time and never available long enough to make a lasting impact. Although it is clear they are all trying tremendously hard to deepen the lifeless script, the cast are ultimately attempting to make a completely different movie to director Stebbings, who’s heavily cliched and simplistic approach leaves a much lighter and comedic tone to the movie’s atmosphere, as the cast try ever so hard to strengthen their emotional chops. These conflicting tonal switches are the film’s overall downfall as, although they worked tremendously for James Gunn’s ‘SUPER’, they simply create even more confusion amongst the already shoddily written script here and really don’t work at all.
Shamefully for the mostly talented cast (bar Dennings) Stebbings had the ultimate decision over the tone and ambience of the film and so, they are left relegated to nothing but brave performances in a broken picture. Whereas the others in its genre triumphed so well, ‘Defendor’ falls horrifically short of the high expectations now expected from such a movie; even failing at being generally entertaining for anybody due to its painfully inconclusive and poorly attempted action sequences and badly connected inter-woven plot lines. It simply has no idea what it is, and tried far too hard to trump the competition, straying too far away from the heart of the script, the one thing that makes this feature so different to the others, the fact that the main character actually is mentally ill. It’s clear that a long time ago, ‘Defendor’ was an emotionally charged story of an unstable individual with serious mother issues who uses the costume and the superhero persona as an escape, but unfortunately this much more dramatic and powerful slant on the tale was sidelined for what appears to be a more inviting swipe at the blood-thirsty target audience.
Easily the worst of its kind, ‘Defendor’ tumbles at every hurdle, the only saving grace being Woody Harrelson’s bold and thoughtful lead, an ecstatically terrific performance which belongs in a far better movie. Let us pray that this insignificant blip on the vigilante radar is only temporary, if more follow suit it may be time to abandon ship.