As a loyal Canadian, I confess that I still have qualms about picking up a Canadian-made direct-to-video movie. However, I saw the trailer for "Defendor" at the beginning of "Zombieland" and knew instantly that it was going to be something special. And it was something special, and a lot more.
Superhero movies such as "Spiderman 2," "Iron Man," and "The Dark Knight" have all been praised, and justly so, for their character development. However, none of them come close to depicting real people when compared to "Defendor." First of all, we have Woody Harrelson as the ultimate everyman, Arthur Poppington, driven by both vengeance and a child-like mind, on a mission to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of the possibly-nonexistant Captain Industry. Donning a black turtleneck, a duct tape 'D', and his grandfather's WWI trench club, Arthur becomes Defendor. With a surprisingly efficient arsonal of marbles, lime juice, and wasps in baby food jars, (providing some of the biggest laughs of the movie) as well as an abhorrence of gun-reliant villains and drug lords, Defendor takes on the scum of his city with cringingly realistic results. Whether he's beating corrupt narcotics officer Dooney (the always excellent Elias Koteas) with his trench club, or being retaliated against by a crew of drug dealers in an alley, the violence is uncompromising, non-stylized, and has lingering consequences. We feel the pain of every character, and, after each battle, we honestly fear that Defendor may not be able to pull himself together for another bout. Nobody falls and bounces in this movie. They fall and land on very hard concrete covered with broken glass.
Kat Dennings soon appears as Kat, a young prostitute, and gives her best performance to date. She is tragically acceptant of her place in the world and tempered like steel, but is drawn to the purity and innocence she sees in Arthur, soon coming to view him as a safe haven in her unforgiving life. The chemistry between the two actors is fantastic, and forms the most endearing foundation of the movie. In a world of movies where the plot sits idling while we wait for the boy and girl to inevitably have sex, there is something refreshing about the scene where Kat crawls into Arthur's bed for nothing more than companionship, and they lie (back-to-back and fully clothed) talking about their lives as they drift off to sleep.
Supporting characters include the consistently reliable Michael Kelly as Arthur's friend and employer, who is both tough-as-nails and sympathetic as the only genuinely stable family man in the movie. Sandra Oh is always a breath of fresh air in her handful of appearances as Arthur's psychiatrist. And never forget Clark Johnson as a police captain who secretly relishes the assistence of everyday heroes, even as he obligingly tells Arthur that vigilantism is not the answer to the city's problems.
Peter Stebbing's direction and writing could not have been better, and it is one of the few movies where you know that a larger budget and Hollywood input would have destroyed it. Stebbing's refusal to compromise his original script may have cost him a studio release, but sticking to his guns saved this movie from being just another spoof or over-the-top actioner. Defendor does something that few Hollywood movies have done. It brings out real emotion from its characters, and from its audience. You will leave this movie feeling elation, sadness, amusement, and inspiration. My highest possible recommendation, and keep making Canada proud with excellent movies like this!