— by H.G. WATSON —
Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and the fifth-biggest city in North America. It has three major sports franchises, a famous international film festival, and enough condo towers to rival Miami. But Toronto’s other claim to fame is playing the part of large American cities in feature films.
Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in X-Men? That’s Toronto’s Casa Loma. The building Milla Jovovich helped blow to smithereens at the end of Resident Evil: Apocalypse? That’s our city hall. Suffice to say Torontonians have gotten used to seeing our city fill in for other urban centers. But we rarely get to see Toronto as itself on screen. That certainly gives the impression to others that Toronto is just a blank canvas with no identity of its own.
So imagine my pleasure in finding out that the Greater Toronto Area is getting its due in not one, but two comic book films in 2010. And both of the films actually look really good. The first is “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” which will hit screens next summer. Edgar Wright, the man behind cult classics “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is directing, which should thrill film geeks worldwide.
The movie is based on a series of manga-style comics set in Toronto, written by native Ontarian Bryan Lee O’Malley. The hero, Scott Pilgrim, has to fight the seven evil exes of his girlfriend Ramona Flowers in order to win her heart. Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are taking on the two characters for the big screen and by all accounts they have nailed their respective roles. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” also features Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin and Mae Whitman.
But Toronto has as big a role in “Scott Pilgrim” as any of the characters do. The characters of “Scott Pilgrim” flit in and out of Toronto’s well-known eateries and concert halls, ride the subways and streetcars, and see a well-known Toronto band or two. Toronto has become known for its indie music scene over the last few years since the city is home to Metric, Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire (bands which may or may not feature in the film, by the way).
I’m excited to see “Scott Pilgrim” pay homage to the cool music scene that has risen in Toronto. And if the opinions of Jason Reitman and Greg Mottala mean anything to you, Toronto and “Scott Pilgrim” are getting the first-class screen treatment. Both twittered ad nauseam about how wonderful the film was after seeing a rough cut. Reitman went so far as to say he was thankful he didn’t have a film coming out against “Scott Pilgrim.” A trailer by the end of February seems likely, so soon we will be able to judge for ourselves.
The second film, Peter Stebbings “Defendor,” doesn’t take place in Toronto proper, but 40 minutes away in the Greater Toronto Area’s most western point — Hamilton, Ontario.
Hamilton was once a thriving manufacturing city, burgeoned by two steel mills. But, like many manufacturing towns across North America, hard times hit and the city went into an economic and social tailspin. Now Hamilton has a reputation as a city filled with crime and violence, a reputation that is unfair in my estimation. However, Stebbings appears to have taken advantage of Hamilton’s bad rep by depicting it as a dark city that needs a hero.
Woody Harrelson stars as the title hero, a construction worker named Arthur Poppington who at night fights crime (ineptly) and seeks out his “Joker,” a villain named Captain Industry who may or may not be a figment of his imagination. Like “Shaun of the Dead” or Harrelson’s other recent hit “Zombieland,” “Defendor” seems like a loving satire of a genre. It is obvious that Stebbings is borrowing heavily from the mythos of Batman and other similar vigilante type heroes.
“Defendor” is essentially what Batman could be if he were just a blue-collar, mentally-unwell average Joe instead of a suave billionaire. The trailer (shown below) gently pokes fun at the gadgets and intimidation techniques used by most heroes, except “Defendor” uses objects found around the house. Harrelson also appears to have hit some of the traits we like to mock the most in film heroes. I got shades of Christian Bale’s Batman voice from his Defendor.
And Hamilton is a great backdrop for a vigilante trying to stop crime. Like Gotham City, it’s a gritty dark place at times, but it could be saved given the work of the right people. “Defendor” is still doing the festival circuit, but it was chosen as an official selection at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, which means a distribution deal can’t be too far behind. At least one hopes that it will get wider distribution. Just from the trailer, it has the look of a film that could fast become a cult classic.
Toronto’s blank canvas is about to get filled in with the adventures of two separate and unique heroes. It’s about time. And for those of you who can’t tell the difference between Toronto and Chicago, at the very least you can look forward to two movies that look to be a breath of fresh air for the comic book film genre.
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