Defendor does what Kick-Ass tried to do: portray a superhero in a realistic way, except unlike Kick-Ass, it doesn’t veer into overkill by the second act. This hero has no powers, no fortune, and sometimes no clue. When he gets punched he bleeds, and most people rightfully think there is something wrong with him.
Woody Harrelson plays a construction worker called Arthur Poppington who is Defendor by night. To call his costume rudimentary would be flattery. He has to paint his mask on his face; the big D on his black sweatshirt is just pieces of duct tape, and his helmet makes him look like a coal miner. A camera is attached to his suit so that he can bring evidence to the police, but it is recorded on VHS tapes. Not exactly the bat suit from The Dark Knight. Even the patient police captain (Clark Johnson) tells him he can’t do anything with these tapes because of the low image quality.
Arthur is no martial arts experts either. When he is on a roof and sees a dirty cop (Elias Koteas) roughing up an underage prostitute called Katrina "Kat" Debrofkowitz (Kat Dennings) he jumps...into an empty trash container. “I need to remember the trash schedules” he tells himself.
Yet he is persistent. Eventually he captures the cop and forces him to disclose the whereabouts of Captain Industry, the man Arthur believes is responsible for all the crimes in the city and possibly the world. At first the cop laughs at him when Arthur tortures him by spraying lime juice in his eyes, but he stops laughing when Arthur uses a nutcracker on one of his fingers.
At the beginning of the movie, Arthur is being evaluated by a Dr. Park (Sandra Oh), a court-appointed psychiatrist, which gives the movie an air of credibility. It almost feels like a scene from an episode of Law and Order when a loopy New Yorker has been apprehended and the prosecution wonders if he is fit to stand trial. The doctor sympathises with Arthur as she discovers that he is an honest and kind man who turned to comic books after his mother abandoned him for drugs. When Arthur asked his grandfather who was responsible, his answer was “captains of industry” hence his quest for the dastardly villain which unfortunately only exists in Arthur’s mind.
Kat Dennings has a layered role as the prostitute who is saved by Arthur. At first she stays with him just for his money, which she uses to buy drugs. Not that Arthur would ever sleep with her, but she convinces him that she knows who is Captain Industry and points him in the direction of a vicious gangster who will not hesitate to kill a crazy man in a costume, even if he only sees him as an annoying fly. She can clearly see that there is something wrong with Arthur, but chooses to stay with him as long as he has money. Yet over time his good nature slowly rubs off on her and she feels she should be nicer to the one person who has ever been nice to her.
Another understanding character is Paul (Michael Kelly) Arthur’s friend from the construction crew who wants to help Arthur since he once saved his son. He is often irritated with Arthur’s reckless behaviour but wants him to be safe. After he learns the truth about the bruises on his face, he gives a convincing speech about how you don’t need a costume to be a hero.
The story’s uneven tone may turn off some people since at first you are not sure if you are supposed to laugh at Arthur as he is clearly mentally unstable. There are funny moments, especially whenever Defendor runs into the cop and manages to ruin his day, much to his own surprise. Yet the filmmakers don’t shy away from implying that in real life Arthur would get seriously hurt.
By the end, Defendor is inspiring since he is the essence of a hero: a simple individual who wants to make a difference and stop the criminals who are hurting people.