The super hero genre in the past several years has become a tentpole of cinema and pop culture, for better or worse. In doing so, for major franchises like The Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man and so on, have elevated comic book adaptations to multi-million dollar extravaganzas. But still there are many different types of stories to tell and many that can be told from the ground, instead of the skies. Such as what if a hero loses their powers? What do they do then? This is the set-up to Archenemy.
Max Fist (Joe Manganiello, True Blood) is the most powerful superhero in the universe. At least, he was. Now, he is a homeless man and alcoholic with possible delusions of grandeur and an anger problem. Punching brick walls and desiring being able to punch through buildings like he claims he could. He is beneath notice in a big city, humored by his bartender and treated like a nuisance until he meets someone willing to actually listen to him. Hamster (Skylan Brooks, The Darkest Minds) is a local vlogger and reporter looking for a big scoop, and he sees his chance with Max. Though he has his doubts about Max Fist’s fantastical stories of super heroics and his nefarious Archenemy from his home universe, they’ll at least make for entertainment. But he’ll need Max’s help when his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs, Bit) gets entangled with The Manager (Glenn Howerton, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) a vicious crimelord who wants Indigo in his clutches. Now the siblings have to team up with Max Fist and discover whether his tall tales are true or if he’s a lunatic. Or maybe both?
Archenemy comes from writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer, who gave us 2019’s mind and bodybending horror movie Daniel Isn’t Real. Much like his last project, he’s made something that defies being boxed into one singular genre or style. Archenemy is an action crime movie, a psychological thriller, a super hero movie turned on its head. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. While I wouldn’t say people are sick of super hero movies, there is some fatigue stemming from the limits of their stories. And this bashes right through them. The truth and delusions of Max Fist are kept up in the air, with clues and turns that will make audiences question the veracity of the supposed super’s claims. But they will not doubt he’s a fighting machine.
Joe Manganiello gives a hell of a performance as Max. Imagine an embittered Thor or Superman struggling with his loss of identity, of power. Even if he’s crazy, you cannot help but sympathize with the guy, even if he punches brick walls to feel something and can bust a man’s skull with his bare hands. But then again, it could just be thanks to all the drugs and alcohol in his system. Skylan Brooks and Zolee Griggs stand out as his unwitting ‘sidekicks’ though they have far better sense and logic than the deranged would be hero. Zolee as Indigo shows unmistakable cunning and is aloof, even when the odds are against her and she’s put into intense situations with literal guns to her head. Hamster is an excellent audience surrogate and gives support to Max Fist’s story. Giving an in-universe perspective on his mystery and his interactions with the everyday world. And Glenn Howerton shines going full blown villain as the elusive Manager. Adding some quirks to a very dangerous and very easily angered crime kingpin.
The action scenes are harrowing whenever Max Fist goes all out. Be it with pipes, guns, or just his seemingly unbreakable hands, Max makes minced meat out of anyone in his way. Especially if he’s inebriated. And Max’s past and possible delusions are handled masterfully with an extremely colorful and surrealist series of motion comic style sequences and rotoscoping. Max’s origins are a comic book style fantasy world, so it only makes sense they’re presented as much. It also makes for an interesting contrast between the sci-fi aspects and the more muted and drab reality Max finds himself trapped in. The plotlines twist and turn together, intersecting in a pretty balanced fashion though some moments dragged a little.
I was fortunate enough to experience Archenemy at Beyond Fest 2020 at the Mission Tiki drive-in and it was a blast on a big screen. As well, the cast and crew including Adam Egypt Mortimer and Joe Manganiello (With his dog, Bubbles!), Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs and others including producers from Spectrevision were in attendance with the Legion M car for photo-ops and intros.
Archenemy was as entertaining as it was heart rending and face punching. Though people don’t yet know the name “Max Fist”, they hopefully will be as invested as Hamster is.
Archenemy is set to be released on December 11th, 2020.