Published Feb 18, 2010Armed with mail-order spy gear, baby food jars full of live wasps, a handful of marbles and half a brain, Defendor is Canada's own caped crusader. Which isn't to say that he wears a cape. Or has superpowers. Or has much else in common with the costumed vigilantes of cinema's superhero new wave.
By day, Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) is a dull-witted citizen inconspicuously working as a flagger on a construction site. But by night he's Defendor, the determined champion of a soiled mini-metropolis that looks like what Hamilton might look like if it were filtered through Verhoeven's Robocop. What Defendor lacks in muscle, agility, intelligence and tactical acumen, he makes up for with sheer clarity of intent, and a few respectable one-liners ("Make like a rocket and take off!" and, better, "You are going to jail").
Seeking out the elusive Captain Industry, who he believes took his mother away from him when he was a boy, Poppington stalks his hometown's post-industrial alleyways, running afoul of biker gangs, Eastern European mobsters and corrupt cops (led by an excellent Elias Koteas). Along the way he even manages to rescue the requisite teenage prostitute (Kat Dennings), but only after she saves his ass first. And like its hero, Stebbings' film may lack the razzle-dazzle of Iron Man, The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 3, but it makes up for it plenty in charisma.
Defendor is a superb home-grown genre film that's consistently entertaining and grittily realistic without tumbling into the territory of Watchmen and other joyless correctives to longstanding superhero narratives. Neither Stebbings nor his titular hero wear their Canadian heritage on their sleeves (apart from performances by Koteas, Sandra Oh, Lisa Ray and other CanCin mainstays), but in not doing so proves how a crowd-pleasing Canadian film can work wonderfully without overdosing on stereotypes and hockey jokes (see: Bon Cop, Bad Cop).
He may not be extraordinary, amazing, fantastic or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I'd take Defendor in my corner over Captain Canuck or the whole of Alpha Flight any day. (Alliance)