Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Defendor


Movie: Defendor (2010)

Director: Peter Stebbings

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas

Written by: Peter Stebbings

Considering Defendor’s superhero is a luckless wannabe who regularly gets beaten to a pulp yet refuses to give up his idealism, it would be easy to write this film off as another Kick-Ass.  That would be completely missing the point.  Unlike Kick-Ass, Defendor really isn’t a comedy.  Sure, it’s great to see Woody Harrelson scamper around with a greasepaint mask and a duct tape D on his chest, leaping heroically into dumpsters and fighting villainy with marbles and jars of wasps.  Yet Defendor is kind of a disturbing guy, a borderline autistic who believes it his holy crusade to rid the world of scum and villainy.  Despite his likeability and goofball antics, Harrelson’s hero is dark and intense, a lost citizen of a grim world in which he is out of his league.  If there’s any lingering confusion, Defendor’s sidekick is a crack whore.

The film begins in the story’s midpoint, with our hero in the midst of psychological evaluation while in police custody.  Even here, he refuses to give up his imperious persona.  Catching up the viewer, we next see Defendor in action, saving his soon-to-be crack whore buddy from an “occupational hazard” at the hands of a crooked cop, the character who becomes the closest the film has to a real villain.  While Defendor continues his pursuit of his sworn enemy, the ephemeral Captain Industry, his sidekick moves into his dingy lair, steals his stuff, and generally acts like an ass.  It’s she who points out the identity of Captain Industry to Defendor and gives him the righteous war that he’s been looking for, which leads to our hero getting pummeled repeatedly.  Of course, Defendor’s childish good nature breaks down his ward’s bitter defenses, and the two become best friends.

But Defendor has other problems.  After getting arrested for dispensing justice without a permit, the court orders our hero to cut the crap and be normal.  For about five minutes afterward, Woody Harrelson portrays a junkie in withdrawal, the drug in question being justice.  But right prevails; Defendor gets back on the horse and gives his city its hero.

One of the most interesting parts of this movie is the cloud of ambiguity that hangs over everything, so much so that the film’s valiant conclusion almost feels out of place.  While cloaked in comic book myth and delusions, what this story really becomes is that of an ordinary (okay, ordinary-ish) man whose relentless convictions bring light to a very bleak world – and ultimately, the only difference between Defendor and everyone else is the duct tape D on his chest.

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