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Monday, December 7, 2020

[Review] Stylish ‘Archenemy’ Offers a Violent, Gritty Deconstruction of the Superhero Genre

There’s a very niche subset of superhero films in which a well-meaning but very clueless human imagines themselves to be a superpowered, self-appointed hero capable of taking down entire crime syndicates on their own. Outside of the blue-collared and unintelligent protagonists, this subgenre of superhero film features hyper-violence and a reality-based world where actual superheroes don’t exist. The latest by Daniel Isn’t Real’s Adam Egypt Mortimer offers a new spin to this genre subset, bringing his distinct style and voice. Archenemy is an ambitious comic book-like effort set in a seedy, urban underbelly, though it struggles to maintain its high energy level.

Hamster (Skylan Brooks) aspires to make a living as an influencer creating viral videos. At the same time, his sister, Indigo (Zolee Griggs), keeps them afloat by working for the local crime boss, The Manager (Glenn Howerton). While Indigo asks for a promotion, drawing her further into the drug trade and sleazy inner workings, Hamster encounters and makes a homeless drunk the subject of his new video series. The more Hamster buys the man drinks, the more he reveals his past- he’s a superhero from an alternate dimension named Max Fist (Joe Manganiello). Max lost his powers once he entered a rift that left him stranded on Earth, and it aged him in the process. Through Hamster, Max finds his purpose again once Indigo betrays her crime boss.

Archenemy takes a while to find its focus. Bouncing around from Hamster’s pursuit of his dreams to Indigo’s navigation of the city’s seedy underbelly to Max’s drunken shenanigans, it’s tough to find footing in the story. It doesn’t help that it’s all presented in a rush of manic energy. There are many setups to get through with these three characters living different lives, and it’s relayed in dizzying speed with varying styles. Max may be a filthy mess of a man now, but his flashbacks are told via animation sequences with a neon palette. The bright bubble gum pop-art world of Max’s past holds a far more alluring promise of escapism than the harsh, grimy reality he’s living in now.

Director/writer Mortimer, who shares story credit with Luke Passmore, uses Hamster as the audience proxy into deciphering Max Fist. The driving mystery seems to be whether Max is every bit the delusional street dweller presented, or if there’s a semblance of truth to his tall tales. It’s Max’s story that proves the most interesting, especially as Hamster’s development seems to cease the more Max finds his confidence. Manganiello is more than up to the task of playing Max. His physicality alone makes him a plausible Superman type, but it’s when the actor can dig into the flawed parts of the character that Max feels multi-dimensional. The sloppy Clark Kent is far more compelling than the single-minded Superman, and Manganiello handles both well.

Outside of Mortimer’s style and a keen eye for composition, the cast is Archenemy’s biggest asset. Brooks is the plucky gateway into this world, Griggs nails tough-yet-vulnerable, and several supporting characters threaten to upstage them all. Howerton always nails sleaze, but he dials up the danger levels just a smidge here. Paul Scheer’s loose-cannon Tango throws a monkey wrench into Indigo’s plans, delivering a welcome jolt in the process. Amy Seimetz also makes an all too brief but mesmerizing appearance.

There are many moving parts to Archenemy, and Mortimer brings a frenetic energy to his high concept. Instead of making his fallen superhero the centerpiece, he tries to disperse the focus between three central characters with varying success. In trying to cast specific plot points in an ambiguous light, it fails to live up to its title; Max does have an archenemy from his previous existence, but there’s nothing that bridges that conflict from minor animated flashbacks to the present. When Max does make his last stand to aid Indigo and Hamster, the emotional weight of it falls a little flat.

Archenemy doesn’t pack nearly as strong of a punch as it intends to, and it struggles to find a rhythm amidst its rage-fueled energy. Mortimer’s latest doesn’t work as well as a whole, but its various components and concepts are enough to keep things interesting. Manganiello’s approach to this fallen Superman character would be worth the watch alone, but the rest of the cast matches him with their engaging performances. Mortimer does attempt something new with his gritty deconstruction of superhero fare, with entertaining action sequences and dark humor, and that should be enough for fans of this subgenre.

Archenemy releases in theaters and on VOD platforms December 11, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3641359/review-stylish-archenemy-gives-violent-gritty-deconstruction-superhero-genre/

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