Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer.
Starring Joe Manganiello, Zolee Griggs, Skylan Brooks, Amy Seimetz, Glenn Howerton, and Paul Scheer.
Local teen, Hamster (Skylan Brooks), meets the mysterious Max Fist (Joe Manganiello), a down-and-out drunk who claims that he has lost his superpowers after being sent to Earth from another dimension. With a renewed sense of purpose, Fist endeavours to help Hamster and his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) take down the local, drug-dealing, crime ring.
Archenemy is a subversive superhero tale powered by Joe Manganiello’s excellent tough-guy performance. The most subversive aspect is the ambiguity regarding Max Fist. Is he a hero from another dimension? Is he a deluded drunk? For much of the film, he could easily be either, and that is one of its best qualities. Manganiello fully commits to the role, putting on his gruffest action hero voice. He plays it just over-the-top enough that Max being completely crazy seems perfectly plausible. In the final act, the truth is revealed, and this is where Archenemy goes a bit awry.
The majority of the film leans into the ambiguity of Max’s situation. The focus is more often on the activities of the drug ring, followed by Max’s crime-fighting. This sets a dark tone that the films’ ending is at odds with. Given that its ambiguity is one of its greatest strengths, Archenemy would have benefitted from preserving the mystery of Max Fist rather than producing an anti-climactic ending with a sudden tonal shift.
Despite the disappointing last act, the film is largely action-packed and visually exciting. It switches easily between the live-action events of the present day, and colourful, animated flashbacks to Max’s life before coming to Earth. These animated sequences are bold and graphic, coloured in neon blue and magenta. They contrast with the dark, live-action scenes and provide both great visual variety, and a reference to the superhero comics that the film is subverting.
Archenemy is at its best when exploring the dark, seedy underbelly of the city and the drug dealers that reside there. We see the different types of people that get caught up in this nasty business, willingly or otherwise, and then get to revel in Fist and Hamster trying to take them down.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from a lack of fleshed-out antagonists. Glenn Howerton’s villain, known only as The Manager, lacks personality as much as he lacks a name. There are a lot of generic lackeys and flimsy motivations; the latter especially applies to the ‘big bad’ of the film. Sadly, the most interesting bad guy is the one who gets the least screen time. Drug dealer Krieg, played by Paul Scheer, is erratic, terrifying, and genuinely insane. Despite his short appearance, Scheer’s off-the-rails performance is the one that stands out the most.
Archenemy is an entertaining and subversive action/superhero film that has an interesting premise. What it lacks in terms of writing, it makes up for in production design and the performances of Joe Manganiello and Paul Scheer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Lauren Miles is a freelance film and television journalist who loves all things gothic, fantasy and film noir. She has an MA in Multimedia Journalism and is also a Halloween enthusiast and cat lady. You can find her on Twitter @Lauren_M1les.