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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.08.09] Canada review action comedy

Year: 2009
Director: Peter Stebbings
Writer: Peter Stebbings
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen. Movies about regular people playing at superhero are not quite as prominent but they’re also around but few (if any) have been as successful at unveiling what makes a regular person a “superhero” as well as Peter Stebbings’ directorial debut Defendor.

On the surface, Stebbings’ film could be seen as a sort of low budget Batman. Defendor is a regular guy who feels compelled to rid the world of evil by any means necessary including putting himself in the way of danger, using home made gadgets and even having a sidekick but where Defendor surpasses the Hollywood template is in its humanity. Bruce Wayne never feels like a real person, he’s too perfect and even when he makes mistakes, they seem too contrived and though Gotham is supposed to be a stand-in for Every City, it never feels quite real. Defendor however, feels like the real thing. We recognize Defendor’s world as our own and though the details (drugs, sex trade) may not be known to us first hand, they’re still more real than anything we’ve seen on screen to date.

Inspiration struck with the casting of Woody Harrelson as Arthur Poppington and his alter ego of Defendor. Though written as a guy a little on the slow side of the ball, Stebbings writes the character of Arthur as a sort of man child, an innocent in search of good. At the hands of a lesser actor the performance could have been flat and one dimensional (think kid playing at superhero) but Harrelson moves the performance beyond the mediocre with his slight changes and balance of the naïve simpleton and a human being with good intentions. Stebbings gets at the heart of what makes an individual a super hero but Harrelson never lets that message get sappy or saccharine, even when it’s laid out in plain view.

Along with Harrelson, the film trucks along with a spectacular cast of supporting characters. The fabulous Sandra Oh makes an appearance as a court appointed psychiatrist, Michael Kelly pops in and out of the story as Arthur’s friend, Kat Dennings does a great job as the love interest/sidekick with issues of her own but it’s Elias Koteas, again cast as a bad guy, who shines as the villain. Though he’s not the man Arthur is on the hunt for, he’s the embodiment of evil (a corrupt cop) and Koteas is, as per usual, electrifying.

Leading up to the climax, the film does take a few missteps with a side plot which veers the story slightly off track and though it does quickly return to form, it’s a misstep that a more polished director would have avoided. But it’s a minor complaint and one that doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of Defendor, a film which works on multiple levels. It’s a hugely entertaining comedy but it also manages to be a tightly woven drama about inspiration and doing the right thing at all costs. In some way, all superhero films attempt to get at this central message but the combination of Stebbings’ script, direction and the performances all come together to make for an un-missable combination.

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projectcyclops (12 years ago) Reply

Wow, this sounds awesome! Thanks for the review :)

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