By Sean Kelly
I was going to write this review solely on Kick-Ass, but then I realized that the similarly-plotted Defendor was just released last week on DVD. This gave me a chance to spin an exciting comparison of two very different takes on what it’s like for an average joe to become a superhero.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average high school student that fantasizes about what life would be like if there really were superheroes. He orders a wetsuit from the internet and decides to live his fantasy. After one of his fights ends up being a hit on YouTube, he attracts the attention of both mobster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and the vigilante father/daughter duo of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka McLovin) rounds out the cast as fellow “hero” Red Mist.
Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) is a mentally-challenged construction worker who at night takes to the streets of Hamilton as the superhero Defendor (with an “O”). Armed with only a trench club, marbles, a slingshot, and a jar of wasps, Arthur befriends a prostitute (Kat Dennings) and they team up against a corrupt cop (Elias Koteas) and his mobster boss, who Defendor dubs “Captain Industry”.
Of the two films, Kick-Ass is closer to a true superhero film. The big difference is that the superhero action takes place in the violent reality of the real world. For example, Kick-Ass’ first attempt to fight criminals results in him being beat-up to within an inch of his life.
Then, of course, there is the sociopathic 11-year-old, Hit Girl. Her character seems a little too comfortable performing horrible acts of violence, and that disturbed Roger Ebert to the point that he was unable to support the film. However, I would argue that, even though there are some dramatic moments, the film is meant to be seen as a comedic satire on superheroes and, like it or not, part of the comedy comes from the absurd sight of this young girl slice and dice through a room full of mobsters.
Defendor focuses more on the consequences of Arthur’s vigilante actions. The bulk of the film involves Arthur telling his story to a court-appointed psychiatrist (Sandra Oh) after he is arrested for one of his acts. Like Kick-Ass, Defendor’s actions result in him getting beaten up more often than not. However, it is hilarious seeing all the simple, yet effective, methods Arthur uses to fight crime, such as throwing a jar full of wasps at criminals or torturing a bad guy by squirting lime juice in his eyes.
Aesthetics and Directing
Kick-Ass is based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar (Wanted) and is directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake). Vaughn self-financed the film after it was passed over for production by the major studios, and it was picked up by Lionsgate only after the footage debuted at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
Even though the story grounds the superheroes in the real world, the film emerges a superhero film nonetheless. With the exception of the hyper-violence and foul language, there is not much within the action of Kick-Ass that distinguishes it from other superhero films. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing and I found it quite entertaining.
The film features a collaborative score by Marius De Vries (Moulin Rougue), Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust), Henry Jackman (Monsters vs Aliens), and John Murphy (28 Days Later). Murphy’s music is the most noticeable, with some of the cues sounding like they were taken straight out of his previous films.
Defendor is the debut feature by actor Peter Stebbings. The quality of the cinematography makes it obvious that the film was made on a Canadian budget. However, it can probably be said that the use of American actors in most of the lead roles (especially Harrelson) helped to elevate the film’s profile somewhat outside of Canada. I also have to say that the film’s faux-Superman score was a nice touch.
Unlike Kick-Ass, I would describe Defendor as a “dramatic comedy about a guy pretending to be a superhero,” rather than an outright superhero film. When all is said and done, Defendor is much more grounded in reality and is more of a true representation of what it would be like if an average joe dressed up as a superhero and took to the streets.
Kick-Ass and Defendor are films with similar premises, yet different executions. Kick-Ass relies on the use of over-the-top violence to portray a superhero in the real world. Defendor, on the other hand, focuses on the consequences of being a vigilante. Different as they are, I enjoyed these films and would recommend both.