Superhero movies have been a major part of the pop-culture landscape for such a long time now that new takes on the genre are often refreshing. This is just what Archenemy attempts to offer. However, despite some promising elements, the movie takes an odd turn before finally glossing over its most promising development.
Archenemy, which is written and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, centers on Max Fist (Joe Manganiello, who’s also a producer), a homeless drunk who insists that, at one time, he was the superhero savior of the city Chromium, which exists in a parallel universe. During a fight with his archenemy Cleo Ventrik (Amy Seimetz), he was sucked through a vortex in space and time and ended up on Earth, where he’s been stranded without his powers ever since. Of course, instead of a traditional superhero that inspires hope and awe, in our reality, Max is a sideshow who trades his fantastical story for shots of whiskey.
He attracts the attention of a guy named Hamster (Skylan Brooks) who sees Max as his ticket to social-media stardom. However, when Hamster’s sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) attempts to steal from her dangerous and volatile drug-dealer boss, who’s simply known as The Manager (Glenn Howerton), and both Hamster and Indigo’s lives are threatened, Max decides to step in to rid the city of the people who want to harm them.
Of course, the question that hangs over the movie is whether or not Max is delusional. After all, his story is easy to write off, especially given his behavior isn’t exactly superheroic. Yet, the movie isn’t especially interested in engaging with the veracity of Max’s story or how he came to be a staggering, substance-addled loner who punches walls. Instead, it uncritically intersperses brightly colored animated flashbacks of Max’s time on Chromium that could be figments of his imagination. Because of this, Max’s identity is never really in doubt, and the focus shifts to whether Max will ever step up to become the hero he claims to be and what will happen when Cleo shows up in this reality, as Max suspects she will.
The animated sequences of Max in his superhero days contrast sharply with the grimy streets Max is confined to on Earth, which give the present-day storyline a gritty, hopeless quality. And things don’t feel much more inspiring when Max decides to take on the criminals who are after Hamster and Indigo. At that point, he (somehow) acquires so much high-powered artillery that he uses for such extreme violence that the movie becomes shockingly reminiscent of Netflix’s recent Marvel series, The Punisher.
Manganiello has always looked like a superhero, and he’s convincing here as a deconstructed version of one. The rest of the cast is solid, especially Griggs who walks a fine line between hardened and caring and Paul Scheer who manages to be both funny and dangerous in a small role.
Unfortunately, by the time Max and Cleo finally meet, only 20 minutes of the film’s runtime are left. This proves to be the most interesting part of the film, as Cleo offers glimpses of their shared backstory that both fills in some blanks and provides a very different perspective on who Max is. As a result, it’s a shame it’s so brief. By weaving Max’s version of his superhero exploits throughout the film and then only building on that mythology in earnest in its last third, Archenemy squanders its strongest plot point. Instead, a last-minute development in the final moments of the film seem to promise a far less interesting sequel. While various parts of the story work independently of one another, the movie never quite comes together as a whole.