Feel free to read that again. Yes, that’s a real line and a real character name in director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s ludicrously bonkers superhero film, “Archenemy,” starring Joe Manganiello as the gloriously named lead character, Max Fist. And you better believe there are plenty more juicy morsels where that came from.
“Archenemy” follows Max Fist, a former Superman-esque hero who has fallen between dimensions during a battle with his archenemy Chloe (Amy Seimetz) from his homeworld Chromia to present-day Los Angeles only to find that he has aged and lost his powers. What would a fallen, powerless hero do in gritty Los Angeles, you ask? It turns out that he would become a homeless drunk that everyone believes is absolutely nuts. To be fair, that part sounds spot on.
From there, Mr. Fist befriends a down-on-his-luck wannabe reporter/influencer named Hamster (Skylan Brooks) who, along with his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs), falls into trouble with a local gangster called The Manager (Glenn Howerton). This sets them on a blood path, dirty money, meth, more bonkers dialogue, and general badassery. But what does it have to say? It’s not clear that director Adam Egypt Mortimer really knows or cares.
“Archenemy” shouldn’t be automatically dismissed as a bad movie. It has wonderful bits of animation that service the comic book story well. The cinematography and use of color offer momentary glimpses of skill and promise. There are also some supremely juicy performances from Manganiello, Howerton, and Seimetz, who all clearly understand the outrageous movie they’re in. Unfortunately, the film spends more time servicing its plot than its characters, leaving one with the familiar feeling of style over substance.
Where great non-Marvel/DC superhero stories tend to shine is in their deconstruction of the genre and its audience (i.e., “The Boys,” “Kick-Ass,” “Watchmen,” etc.). “Archenemy” seems more content simply being a gonzo journey through the mind of a person who may be crazy or may be a superhero and nothing more. It shows glimmers of confronting the character’s toxic masculinity and ultimately backs off in favor of a more hackneyed final act and ending.
Even so, it still has Joe Manganiello saying lines like, “I had to punch through the molecules…” or “You have to understand about the cosmic blood!” or “Do you understand String Theory?” and puking all over himself repeatedly – and the film is lucky to have him, as he makes the character someone you want to follow throughout the movie. The same can’t be said of the people he befriends, as Hamster and Indigo are nothing more than tired clichés.
What you’re left with is a mixed bag of colorful, bizarro superhero world-building and threadbare characters that leaves the viewer with little-to-no interest in what happens next. It punishes its best characters and rewards its worst – leaving “Archenemy” as a fun, opalescent, multi-dimensional journey to an ultimately ho-hum destination. Genre fans, proceed with caution, and keep the expectations low.