When I first watched the trailer for Archenemy, I was immediately enthralled. For one, I loved that this was an original story inspired by comic books and superheroes, but not adapted from them. Hancock and The Incredibles are just two examples of how wonderful these stories can be, and for as much as the superhero genre has exploded in recent years, truly original IP of that nature is in short supply.
On top of that, this is a tale of a drunk who may or may not be a hero from another world teaming up with a young storyteller. The story felt like it was created for me specifically, and as such, I may be a little bit biased. Antiheroes like Deadpool, Moon Knight, and The Punisher, have always fascinated me, and Joe Manganiello’s Max Fist is cut from the same cloth. He is a character who lost everything, and this is the story of how Max finds himself again.
Hamster (Skylan Brooks), the aforementioned storyteller begins spending all of his free time with Fist, simply because Fist’s stories are fascinating. As Fist relays the stories of his past as the protector of Chromium to Hamster, audiences are treated to visually stunning animated sequences. Vibrant hues of purple and blue give life to the world Max speaks of, and their disconnection from the physical world furthers the question, “Is there any truth to the stories of Max Fist?”
Director Adam Egypt Mortimer does not choose to answer that question for the vast majority of the film’s runtime. Furthermore, he does a fantastic job leading the story through twists and turns that will push and pull the audience between faith and disbelief. In one scene, I found myself convinced that Max was nothing more than an unstable addict with a knack for violence. In another, I had no doubt that Chromium was every bit as real and genuine as our “hero” claimed. If you want to know the truth, you’ll just have to watch the film.
ARCHENEMY IS THOUGHT-PROVOKING BUT NEVER PREACHY
A large part of what makes this film so special is how engaging it is. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of superhero movies and TV shows and read just as many comic books, and very few are this thought-provoking. The film moves at a brisk pace, rarely pausing to catch it’s breath, and the onslaught of questions raised never ceases until the third act.
How violent can a person be and still call themselves a hero? Is the taking of life justified if it means protecting something or someone you love? Do we discard our veterans in the same way that Max was (allegedly) banished from his home dimension? Just how far can trust bend before it should break?
Much to the advantage of the film, none of these concepts come across as heavy handed or overly deliberate. Mortimer weaves these ideas into the framework of Archenemy seamlessly, with rare exception. He also has the good grace to answer most of the literal questions about the film, and the intelligence to let viewers answer the philosophical questions themselves.
While Mortimer’s directing and Manganiello’s lead performance are undoubtedly the strongest aspects of this film, they are far from the only highlights. The neon color palette of Chromium contrasts beautifully with the seedy underbelly of the “real world”, and Roger Rabbit-esque intertwining of the animated and live-action elements brought a smile to my face every time. The action sequences are choreographed wonderfully, and the performances are stellar across the board.
ARCHENEMY FEATURES A TRULY STELLAR CAST
Skylan Brooks brings an exuberance and passion to Hamster, making the naive reporter feel truly authentic. His high energy antics aren’t the only thing that makes Hamster tick; Hamster is a very caring, emotionally vulnerable soul. This is portrayed in both his relationship with his muse, as well as his interactions with his older sister, Indigo. I hope to see a lot more of Skylan Brooks in Hollywood soon.
Indigo (Zolee Griggs) is fiercely protective of her younger brother, willing to do anything to give them a better life. Much like Max Fist, she is a fighter, doing all that she can to escape the clutches of the city’s underworld. Griggs shares a scene with the wonderful Paul Scheer that will have you on the edge of your seat while it’s happening, and gasping for air once it’s over.
Glenn Howerton, Amy Seimetz and Joseph D. Reitman all delivered thrilling antagonistic performances. Each character is threatening, malevolent and terrifying but in their own unique way. There wasn’t an actor who left anything to be desired throughout the entirety of Archenemy.
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If I had one gripe with the film, it would have to be the relationship between Seimetz’ character Cleo and Mangeniello’s Max Fist. Their shared history is set up wonderfully in the animated sequences, but when they meet face to face in the present, it lacks the same level of gravitas. This is not the fault of the actors or the writing, but more a byproduct of the film’s runtime and need to keep the truth of Chromium a mystery until the end.
The argument that the superhero genre is oversaturated and stale has been thrown around for years now. Archenemy is proof that superhero movies still have vast, untapped potential for fresh, sophisticated, and provocative storytelling. Forget Bloodshot, Birds Of Prey, and The New Mutants, Archenemy is easily the best superhero movie of 2020.
Archenemy is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, and stars Skylan Brooks as Hamster, Joe Manganiello as Max Fist, and Zolee Griggs as Indigo. The film is in theaters, and available on VOD and Digital today December 11th! Let us know your thoughts on the film in the comments below or on our social media!
KEEP READING: ARCHENEMY INTERVIEW: DIRECTOR ADAM EGYPT MORTIMER ON FILM’S ORIGIN, SEQUEL PLANS & DREAMING ABOUT NICK FURY AND ANIMAL MAN