This is the last of a small group of similarly themed independent superhero movies that I’ve come around to watching. Alongside Special, Super, and to a lesser extent Kick-Ass, this is definitely the one with the least amount of humor in it, but I think it’s coming to be the one that I like the most. It’s not exactly a big movie but it does have a nice cast consisting of Woody Harrelson as Arthur Poppington/Defendor, Elias Koteas as Officer Dooney, Kat Dennings as Angel/Kat Debrofkowitz, and Sandra Oh as the psychiatric evaluator. The way I like to describe the tone of the movie is if Forrest Gump was Batman. There is some humor in it, but the movie rarely uses Arthur’s mental disability as a source of humor, instead it uses it much more as a source of empathy. And instead of stumbling his way through significant moments in history, he stumbles his way through a local drug lord’s activities. It has moments of lightness, but also becomes a bit of a crime drama mixed with a bit of social commentary. If you can find it anywhere out there, it’s worth your time to check it out.
As the main character, Woody Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington who is a grown man with a developmental disability where he has a very childlike sense of what’s around him, but his single mother, and later his grandfather have both passed away a while ago leaving him on his own in the world with only his foreman boss as a good friend who does his best to look out for him. And in his spare time, Arthur patrols the streets as Defendor in some of his grandfather’s old army supplies, like his trenchclub, and 80’s era spy gear, like a camera that records to VHS tapes. It’s important to him that his name is Defendor rather than Defender. One thing that I actually thought worked well in this movie that doesn’t always work is the framing story where he is talking to Sandra Oh’s psychiatrist as he is evaluated to see if he is psychologically fit to stand in a criminal trial. Unlike the recent Lone Ranger, the framing story really helped to get a sense of Arthur’s character and mental state before the movie jumps into his story where he is out running around as Defendor. It’s also a nice juxtaposition where the streets are all darkly lit, Arthur’s wearing all black as Defendor, and talking in a deep raspy voice, but when he’s talking with Oh, it’s in a nice bright room, he’s wearing the bright orange prison jumpsuit, she is doing most of the talking with her soothing voice, and when Arthur is talking, he’s using his normal, more childlike and friendly voice.
One of the problems I had with this movie is even without seeing much in the way of marketing, I knew that this movie was marketed as a comedy in a similar vein as Super and Special, but there is much less comedy here than in either of those two movies and when it is there, it is much more subtle and subdued. When it gets about to the halfway point, his superhero antics start to actually uncover something much more serious than just a crooked cop taking advantage of a hooker, or roughing up a kid graffiti artist. You see a lot more of the good people around him that actually get inspired by his determination, and he even shows some ingenuity in some of his tactics. There is the police chief who knows he has corrupt cops under him and he is also trying to take down the drug lord with his own tactics involving a deep undercover agent which ends up being my one main point of contention in the plot of this movie. After causing some mayhem with the drug lord, Defendor gets put on the hit list and the undercover agent ends up being the one to try and take him out, but because he is still an officer, he doesn’t kill Arthur and instead uses training bullets to knock him down. While this does create an important plot element, giving Arthur the delusion that he is invulnerable to bullets, it is also a really stupid move to even carry around a police issued gun with training bullets when posing as a high ranking member of a drug lord’s cadre.
The conclusion of the movie does end up being somewhat predictable, but I still thought it was no less moving, especially when it’s helped by all of the friends he has made throughout the course of the movie showing their support to his cause. There’s also a continuing thread where we hear snippets of a talk radio show that discusses the growing crime in the city as well as the eventual exploits of Defendor himself. There are also a couple moments where we see through Defendor’s VHS camera, and a nice bit of humor when he needs to find more VHS tapes when it is already an era where VHS is in very short supply. While there isn’t as much comedy as the poster and trailers would lead you to believe, what comedy there is allows for a bit of a smile and a breath of air in between the more serious and heartfelt moments with Arthur and the people around him. If you haven’t seen it before, and I doubt you have, I would definitely go check it out. Until next time this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.