The directorial debut of actor Peter Stebbings (who also wrote the screenplay), Defendor follows Arthur (Woody Harrelson), a man a little slow on the uptake who by day works on a road crew with his friend Paul (Michael Kelly), but by night patrols the crime-ridden city as Defendor, his superhero alter-ego. But Arthur doesn't actually have any superpowers; he's stuck in his own childhood, still feeling the death of his mother when he was young, and has used the comics he loves as an inspiration for tracking down the one he feels responsible - Captain Industry.
One night, Arthur rescues Kat, a prostitute, from the clutches of a corrupt cop (Elias Koteas). Kat, seeing a chance for revenge in Arthur, convinces him that a local crime boss is actually the Captain Industry that Arthur has been searching for. This leads them both down a path where Arthur's fantasy and reality will soon collide, but in the process may teach everyone what is worth fighting for.
As Stebbings described it, this really is more of a dramatic film with funny moments in it. Harrelson is good as Arthur, who finds the strength and comfort in his guise as Defendor that he can't often find in his real life. Stebbings was aiming for a very realistic, grounded film, and succeeds in that. This is almost an anti-superhero movie in a way, in that ultimately Defendor is really just a normal person, with no superpowers, who just by believing in things is able to achieve remarkable things and further inspire those who meet him.
Peter Stebbings and most of the cast were at the screening and did a Q&A after the film:
- The story came from Stebbing's love affair with comics as a teenager. He loved the superhero genre, but knew he couldn't compete with the blockbusters, so he wanted to do a character study (he joked he was reading the Brothers Karamazov at the time). He sprung out of bed with the idea, and it seemed kind of zeitgeisty, so he wrote it.
- When asked if Stebbings had always set the film in Hamilton, he joked he wrote it for the Hammer and that they have a really good tax credit there. But he said that everytime he works there, and goes over that bridge (the Skyway), he loves the esthetic, and it seemed like the perfect size and that it needed to be featured. It's a skyline and city that he adores.
- Stebbings didn't grow up in Hamilton, he grew up in Vancouver, but they have similar issues (i.e. the Downtown Eastside). There really is a guy named Thanatos that goes out and fights crime in the eastside (http://www.reallifesuperheroes.org/heroes_thanatos.php)
- Stebbings didn't originally have Harrelson in mind, but now can't imagine anyone else in the role. The whole movie falls apart if there isn't someone honest in the role. He feels he was working with one of the great American actors of his age.
- Harrelson said it meant a lot to them that the audience responded so well to the movie, and wanted to do the film because when he read it, it was one of the most beautiful, well crafted, unique, unusual, and completely original scripts he had ever seen. He had the opportunity to meet Peter and hit it off. It's one of those experiences you hope for.
- Stebbings said the ending was important to him. The tone of the film was very important, it could have gone off the rails anywhere, could have gone campy, could have chased laughs. He was worried when the film was billed as a comedy, because he doesn't think it is, that it is a drama with a lot of levity and humour, they don't chase the laughs - they come to you. He wanted to ground this thing and 100% believe in these circumstances and that they could actually happen.