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Who defends the Defendor?

Just a heads-up – the Defendor review is pretty unfinished, it’s mostly just my notes cobbled together into a very clumsy whole.
It’s an intriguing film and it really got me thinking of a lot of things to discuss, but I left the review off for too long until I’d forgotten a lot of what I wanted to ramble about.
In a nutshell it was basically how Defendor as a character is really intriguing, the atmosphere and locale around him just isn’t anywhere near as gripping, but the two do need to be blended for it to work well.
Well, I’ve basically summarised my whole review anyway. You can skip it if you want! There’s two other reviews shoved at the bottom somewhere.

I watched Defendor last week. It came out two years ago, but I’d never even heard of it before; I’m not sure if that’s just because of poor advertising or if it even got a cinema release over here, but it’s an interesting little film. The city is being run down by the no-good goings-on of the mysterious and nefarious Captain Industry, the head of a gun, drug and prostitute smuggling ring. By day, Arthur Poppington works as an unassuming construction foreman, but by night, he dons his black sweater and VCR-backpack and becomes… Defendor!

In actuality, he’s a well-meaning if literal-minded man with mental difficulties. He dons the superhero guise as a means of escaping from his embarrassing civilian identity, and his vendetta against Captain Industry is due partly to his mother being a prostitute who died from drugs, and partly due to misinterpreting something his grandfather said. The first two acts of the film are actually told through flashback, as Arthur retells the events leading up to him dunking a paedophile in a rubbish bin to a psychiatrist.
Yeah. It’s advertised as a comedy, but it’s a bit of an odd film.

There’s probably a few hundred thousand essays floating around the ether detailing in superb detail why peeps like superheroes so much. I think part of it comes from the selfless actions they take to protect the general public, and how it shows just one individual can make a difference (granted they have superpowers and whatnot to start with), even against an entire organisation. It’s a romantic idea, but there’s a lot going against it, you’d have to be crazy to sit down and decide, “I’m going to save this run-down inner-city community from its drug lord oppressors.”
And, well, Defendor is a few eggs short of a basket. He’s a passionate, well-meaning guy but has a head full of crazy ideas, and in a sense he only manages to achieve his goal through happy coincidence. Had his teenage prostitute sidekick not suggested that her boss were Captain Industry as a joke, very little would have been achieved, quite possibly.
Yes, his sidekick is a teenage prostitute. She’s not much of a sidekick, really, but what else am I going to refer to her as?

It probably sounds sick, but I’m interested in media that covers mental illness, and in that regard, Defendor is a really intriguing piece of work. Woody Harrelson does a fantastic job playing the character, displaying a lot of distinctive mannerisms and quirks; he always means well, but he’s a literal-minded, black-and-white morality kind of person living in a shady, run-down part of town, and the two never truly gel well. There’s a rather cute yet bittersweet scene where the prostitute friend is kidnapped and he’s given a message saying, “talk and she dies.” And he refuses to speak a word to anyone at all, even after being given a home by his only other close friend, until he works up the courage to save her. (though admittedly from a story perspective this sequence doesn’t actually mean much since she saves herself anyway, but it’s just an interesting way of showing how the guy thinks)
The guy doesn’t even have a proper home, having had rows with other people in his previous homes and currently living in an abandoned workshop. The local thugs recognise him in his superhero guise as “the retard,” and he’s a bit of an outcast, having only one real friend (with family). Despite that, he still goes out of his way to stand up for the little man and do his best to make the city a better place.

The exploration of a mentally-handicapped guy who retreats into a superhero persona to escape from his anxieties and problems as an ordinary guy is certainly an oddball plot, but it’s a really intriguing one. He’s not the most mature of individuals, especially given his odd choice of weaponry (he totes bags of marbles and jars of angry wasps into battle) and how he takes himself seriously despite his miserable track record. But he’s not just played for laughs as a bumbling doofus where the only joke is “haha, he’s got a mental defect!” He’s still a human being. he’s not mature, he’s not intelligent and he’s hardly competent, but his sheer passion towards his goals is admirable.

In a way, it’s kind of boring how the main theme is so intriguing (to me, at least) while the rest is such a misery. Guns, drugs, prostitutes and pimps. It’s a big part of the theme contrasting Poppington’s optimistic ideals about heroism in such a bleak, cynical atmosphere, and how even people from poor upbringings and in lousy situations/occupations can still better themselves. It works fantastically as a theme. It just comes across as boring and bleak in execution, though. I don’t think it helps that Arthur Poppington is just an entertaining character to watch, and his different take to the world is much more appealing than the, well, unappealing nature of Prostitute With A Heart Of Gold #41076. It’s like the opposite of Kickass – it’s not about one guy becoming a superhero and then discovering everyone else is secretly doing it except a million times better – it’s about a guy becoming a superhero, and the environment is so bleak and uninteresting than it doesn’t deserve him.

Summary. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Defendor, and admittedly at parts it is a bit ropey, but all in all I thought it was an intriguing watch. It’s probably not easy to categorise, though – it’s not really in the same league as other superhero spoofs, and trying to slot it in with drama films might be a bit of a stretch due to the odd premise and occasional bouts of absurdity. I waffle about the mental health side of things when it probably constituted a sub-factor of the film, but it’s what I’m interested in! It’s hard to recommend, really (and in a way I’ve enjoyed examining it, but I’m in no rush to re-watch it). If you’re up for something offbeat, it might be worth a watch, though it’s all up to personal taste, of course.

On Friday my dad made the great suggestion of watching Theodore Rex. I’ve no idea where he got it or what put the notion in his head, but I joined him.

We barely survived one hour of it.

I don’t know how much was left, but my god, it’s not an hour of my life I’ll look back on fondly. In some sick, twisted way, it reminded me of the Super Mario Bros. movie… in all the worst ways. While that movie had some poorly-pinpointed charm and the fact it was based off a video game to give it some merit (not to mention a turbulent yet highly interesting development history, plug plug!), Theodore Rex is just… something else.
It’s like the set designers, costume designers and special effects crew had more sway over the film than the director or screenwriters. I still can’t imagine any reason why we’d have to see a female tyrannosaurus rex do a song and dance number in a burlesque house, or waste precious minutes seeing the titular saurian put in random outfits because his friend decided to tamper with a magic costume device. It’s like they got a five year old to outline a bunch of wacky stuff he’d like to see in a movie, and the crew realised “well, shit, we spent all our money on all these sets, costumes and animatronics. There’s no backing out now!” (On the flipside, I have no problem with five year olds being in charge of comic books)

In a way, that was the worst part. There was talent on board. The sets are very nice and stylish looking, and there’s some really nifty looking costumes and makeup on some of the wackier characters. The dinosaur costumes aren’t fantastic, but they’re not completely dreadful, although a bit ropey looking at times. Heck, even some of the basic setting for the film is intriguing, if just for the cynical cyberpunk futuristic landscape they’ve got going on.
… it’s just a pity that the film offers no interesting characters, a nonsensical plot, and reams and reams of dialogue, sound effects and disgustingly-cute music that will never shut up. My god! It just never shut up! Teddy Rex is constantly flapping his lips (even when his mouth isn’t moving) and the scaly bastard has nothing worth saying. If he’s not constantly ad-libbing “golly gee, this is my first detective case, how gosh-darned exciting!” then he’s humming to himself or singing to himself or just yak-yak-yakking. Makes you wish someone would’ve just strapped a muzzle on him. Even the music feels the need to pipe in when it isn’t needed – there are mildly-serious, story-progressing scenes that aren’t about madcap animatronic antics, just characters talking and furthering the story, and they still have that cringe-worthy cookie-cutter kids’ movie music jingling in the background. It’s as if they thought grown-ups talking would just bore the kids too much, so they kept the soundtrack running as if to give the illusion that wacky things are goin’ on!
My heart wept for poor Whoopi Goldberg, though. She looked just about ready to shoot herself every time she was on-screen.

It… it was interesting to finally see it, though, uh, jeez. I probably shouldn’t have been watching a movie meant for five year olds in the first place, but I think even they would’ve been insulted by it.

I caught Conan the Barbarian recently. No real expectations, just wanted to see a shirtless dude slice up some guys. Got precisely that. It very nicely captures the very rough-and-tumble, hurly-burly camaraderie that was so prominent in Robert E. Howard’s stories, and it’s got a much more brutal and dark visage going on in contrast to the old Arnie movies.
That’s about all I have to say, really. Entertaining action flick. Some great visuals. A good Conan.

One Comment

  1. MightyKombat wrote:

    Is that whole “who Xes the Xers” a meme yet?

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink