Defendor (2009)

(On DVD, May 2011) Let’s face it: “Canadian Superhero film” sounds eccentric already. It’s not much of a surprise when Defendor ends up being a very unusual attempt to explore a more realistic take on the idea of a superhero: a mentally challenged loner who reinvents himself as a superhero in a crime-ridden city.  Billed as a comedy and containing a few genuinely funny moments, Defendor is nonetheless a fairly dark and unglamorous take on the superhero idea: There are no magical powers here, and the superhero fantasy itself is arguably laid bare as a coping mechanism by a mind unable to conceive of better alternatives.  (That it actually works may be the film’s lone concession to the demands of popular filmmaking.)  Nonetheless, the film itself is well-paced, and benefits from a superb performance by Woody Harrelson in the lead role.  Other notables such as Sandra Oh and Elias Koteas round up the cast, with a flashy cameo by Lisa Ray.  Where Defendor may end striking a wrong tone is in matters of expectations: There’s little conventional entertainment here, and the end of the film plays a bit loosely with the idea that it’s a comedy.  It’s a challenging film in its own way, and viewer’s expectations should be calibrated accordingly.

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