A change of direction for Adam Egypt Mortimer: a film about heroes and purpose, blending gritty crime action with comic-book animation.
I did it again. I started watching Archenemy with firm expectations that I was going to love it, because of how much the director’s last film blew my mind. I have to wonder if I would have enjoyed it more without any expectations.
Archenemy opens with a good old-fashioned comic book backstory, about the time Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) “punched through the molecules to create a vortex” and landed here on our Earth. It’s a tale he’s telling in exchange for drinks at a bar, so although it’s a colorful and reasonably original tale, we cannot tell whether to take him at his word or not. Next, we meet Hamster (Skylan Brooks), wannabe street reporter, and Indigo (Zolee Griggs), his drug-dealing sister, two people who live in this world, and in their own way want to get out of it too.
So there you go: Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Archenemy is essentially a story doing good with the resources at hand, via cartoon-style storytelling and life-on-the-streets style action scenes. That contrast of “super” with down-to-Earth and the film’s tone, in general, brought She Never Died to mind, but that one worked much better, in my opinion. Although I adored the animated sequences, there was such a come-down when each one finished that I think perhaps the contrast was too much.
Max Fist is a great creation, mind you. He seems to genuinely miss his far-off home and the person he could be there, without being melodramatic about it, and Manganiello gives the part all the requisite muscle and sincerity. Everyone else is unfortunately dull in comparison, two-dimensional lowlives and the idealized siblings, while Max just gets more interesting. There have been many films that bring a slant to the superhero model, and Max Fist had such potential that I would have loved to know more about his world (a prequel perhaps?): if only he hadn’t ended up on boring Earth.
The other issue I had with Archenemy was the target audience. For the most part, the film was light-weight and action-packed, seemingly ideal in appearance for teens or adolescents; but very soon, it was apparent that it was too heavy on drugs and (especially) swearing for kids. So it had potential, but in a few respects, it was a bit too patchy. It did have the swirling purple and pink backdrops that brought me right back to Daniel Isn’t Real: that’s the one I’ll recommend.
RLJE Films will release the action/thriller Archenemy in theaters, on digital and on demand December 11, 2020.