Joe Manganiello as Max Fist
Skylan Brooks as Hamster
Zolee Griggs as Indigo
Paul Scheer as Tango
Amy Seimetz as Cleo
Glenn Howerton as The Manager
Written, Co-Story & Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer; Co-Story by Lucas Passmore
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We’re in an age in which superhero movies and comic book stories remain all the rage on both the big and small screens, but admittedly even as the adaptations remain mostly quality or entertaining, even I’ve felt a bit of the comic book fatigue in my content viewing. So when a film as intriguing, as colorful, as subversive and as original as Archenemy comes along, I’m reminded of how exciting the world of superheroes can be, even if it’s not based on an actual comic book.
Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to Earth, where he has no powers. No one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster. Together, they take to the streets to wipe out the local drug syndicate and its vicious crime boss known as The Manager.
The story surrounding Max and his past is one that often feels very unique, with displaced and disheartened heroes having been seen before in the pages of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, but never in such a way as Max’s case. He’s not just disheartened by his past but also by being trapped in a world he’s unfamiliar with, and having no one to turn to.
Writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s approach to how the world sees Max and how Hamster learns about him is also brilliantly played out through the story as we really are left to wonder for much of the film if he is actually who he says he is or just a poor and delusional man. With his powers taken away from him due to the hole in the universe he punched himself, according to Max, it makes it that much harder for one to believe his tales and though he makes plenty of attempts to prove it to his young follower, it plays out in the “blink and he misses it” formula that works to further test audiences’ judgments on Max.
Given the more indie nature of the production, especially in comparison to Marvel and DC’s $150+ million budgets, Mortimer finds a workaround to bringing the world of Max’s home planet to life by utilizing colorful and vibrant comic book-style animation and it works entirely. It not only allows the filmmaker to ensure all of his live-action material looks as stylish as possible with the money he has, but it also creates a shared visual language between animation and the real world that works marvels.
Alongside the skillful and well-paced storytelling, there’s also a marvelous sense of humor that runs throughout that prevents the film from plunging into the overly-serious and boringly-dour depths of Zack Snyder’s DC Comics efforts, of which Manganiello has previously been a part of. From the erratic nature of Paul Scheer’s coked up Tango to Glenn Howerton’s deliciously evil Manager, and even Manganiello’s ability to bring some self-aware levity to Max, there’s plenty of moments worthy of chuckles or laughter that keep the proceedings just light enough.
The performances in the film also shine, be they comedic or serious, especially in Manganiello, Howerton and sure-to-be-breakout-star Zolee Griggs. Admittedly, Griggs’ Indigo feels somewhat familiar and underwritten at times, a typical big sister doing crime to get her and her brother out of the ghetto and in a better life, but the 23-year-old star brings a real heart and charisma to the character that enlivens her and makes her a compelling center to the story.
Archenemy may fall short of some viewers’ expectations with some occasional uneven writing and steadier pace than other comic books outings, but thanks to stylish direction, a unique and intriguing concept, brilliant animation and stellar performances from its cast, it continues Mortimer’s win streak and proves he’s far more than just a horror director.