I think I’d make a decent superhero. I’ve got the good looks, the charm, the brains, and most importantly, the courage, that is needed to save my fellow man from whatever perils they are facing. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve got none of those (except the good looks and perhaps an inkling of intelligence) and the one time that I tried to defend against a team of law-breakers, I got my ass kicked. But at least I can die knowing that, in the rare occasion that I do ever want to become a masked vigilante, I’ll be much better than Defendor, who is the character at focus in Peter Stebbings’ latest motion picture.
Defendor which is both written and directed by Stebblings stars Woody Harrelson as the troubled superhero. Along his adventures, he meets Kat (who coincidentally is played by Kat Dennings), a young prostitute who proves to be instrumental in finding Defendor’s archenemy Captain Industry (at a price) — a powerful mob boss whose relationship to Defendor is explained later in the film.
But we aren’t introduced to Defendor first; the introductory scene of the film instead presents the man behind the mask, Arthur Poppington. During this sequence, we see Dr. Ellen Park (Sandra Oh) and Arthur during a court-mandated psychological evaluation. Personally, I found Park’s presence to be a bit gimmicky as she just serves as a connecting point to the audience as she learns about Arthur’s past as everyone else does. Another thing that bothered me was the fact that as the film progresses she quickly became awed by the story of Defendor, at almost an unbelievable pace. But she’s likeable enough not to cause a complete annoyance.
However, what is a distraction and perhaps the film’s damning aspect is the fact that Defendor changes genres several times throughout its running time. To be exact, there are three major changes that take place:
- It turns into a mental health drama about the loveable Arthur who has a heart of gold but just isn’t “all there upstairs.”
- A sheering comic-book spoof that shows the implausibilities and the absurdity of modern-day graphic novels.
- The typical Mafioso crime thriller in which there a dirty cop, a bloody-thirsty boss and of course a plethora of female hookers.
None of these work as effectively as they should as this is because Defendor is a jack of all trades and master of none. It can’t be classified as a drama or even a dark comedy because it simply isn’t fleshed out enough. Defendor’s world is never really explained and his childhood is a mish-mash of the clichés that have been plaguing Hollywood for years. It also isn’t funny enough to be considered a worthwhile spoof and though it does supply one or two hearty bouts of laughter, it simply isn’t enough. And the final nail in the coffin is just that the film is boring. Watching a superhero isn’t supposed to be a drag but it seems like the cast of “Pawn Stars” have more exciting lives than the crime-busting, trench club using, knight of justice.
Not even a low-key yet exquisite performance by Harrelson can save this superhero film and that’s saying something. Harrelson channels his inner Tom Hanks, by not mocking his character’s mental disabilities but instead embracing them as part of Arthur. This mental disorder is what makes the very character of the Defendor and it’s surprising that Stebbings did not include his illness whenever Arthur was dressed as the Defendor. It just seemed as the costume cured him and this seems like a wasted opportunity.
But Stebbings — along with character development — also needs to work on dialog. Some of the script is just pure cheese and the one-liners that Defendor constantly spouts are nothing but bits of stupidity marketed as “har-har comedy”. But news flash Stebbings, just because you make your character say idiotic things doesn’t mean that the immaturity of the script as a whole is deemed acceptable. Plus it’s extremely annoying to hear Arthur rant about how his name is “Defendor” and not “Defender,” yet when speaking to Kat, he himself calls himself the “Defender”. Did they even proof-read the script or was Harrelson’s performance not as excellent as I originally thought it was?
It seems that director Peter Stebbings has some archenemies of his own, namely direction, character development, and narrative arc, and sadly the forces of evil have overcame this director. I guess it’s time to retreat to the Bat Cave, and by Bat Cave, I mean multi-million dollar home in Hamptons that’s funded by shit like Defendor.
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