Archenemy (2020)

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Paul Scheer, Amy Seimetz, Glenn Howerton

Over the past decade, one of the largest changes to cinema has been the rising popularity of superhero films, for better or worse. The likes of Batman, The Avengers, and Spider-Man have transformed them from risky ventures to big-budget tentpoles, whose presence dominates the box-office. As a result, the question becomes where the stories can go in an effort to keep things fresh. Enter Max Fist (Joe Manganiello), a man claiming to be the greatest hero from another universe. He now lives his life as a powerless drunk, sharing the stories of his past to disbelieving people, until he meets a kid named Hamster (Skylan Brooks). Together, they take to the streets to stop a local crime boss and his drug syndicate.

Following up the cosmic piece of horror which was 2019's Daniel Isn't Real, writer and director Adam Egypt Mortimer crafts a riveting spin on the genre, based on a story he concocted with Lucas Passmore. As we bear witness to a hero confronting his inner demons, reigniting their inner spark by putting aside the booze and helping others, it brings to mind 2008's Will Smith vehicle, Hancock, minus the jarring narrative shift. Heroics and modern noir are blended together in a stylish manner, while integrated into the narrative are comic-book style flashbacks, depicted in all their colourful glory.

Taking on the lead role of Max Fist is Joe Manganiello, a man who's no stranger to the genre. He already fits he role with his hero-like physique, and backs it up with an excellent performance, capturing how lost the former hero is. Adapting to a life without a home or the powers he became accustomed to, the only comfort Max finds is in alcohol, and reciting the stories from his glory days. Masking his vulnerability in a rage, the grizzled figure wallows at how far he has fallen, and how much the circumstances are out of his control.

Finding hope in our lead is Hamster, an aspiring reporter who wishes to shine a light on the world he lives in, and give a voice to the stories the news fails to tackle. His sister, Indigo, has a different tactic, providing for her family by working as a drug-dealer. This isn't a situation she wanted to be a part of, though she grins and bears it, as her priority is getting her brother out of the dangerous neighbourhood they live in. Skylan Brooks and Zolee Griggs put good performances into the siblings, though one wishes their roles were more in a supporting capacity to Max Fist, as the latter delivers the more interesting material.

Embodying the antagonistic forces is The Manager, a local drug-dealer with bleach blonde hair, brought alive by a game Glenn Howerton. Borrowing from elements which made Dennis Reynolds such a captivating TV character, Howerton puts a coiled rage into his character, ready to explode at a moment's notice, while perceiving himself as nothing less than slick. A special mention is deserved to Paul Scheer, who manages to be utterly memorable in a small appearance. Portraying a dangerous gangster that has tattoos across his forehead, the energy put into the role ensures the character lingers in the memory.

The action ramps up as the story moves along, and the optimism fades from Hamster, as he sees the darker side to Max's vigilantism. As he's standing in the aftermath of a blood-soaked rampage caused by the supposed hero, there's no interest in glossing over it, due to being enacted in the name of justice. This also brings to mind a question which hangs over the film, whether Max has been telling the truth all along. The question lingers in the air with great interest, charting a potentially tragic avenue for the story to go down, yet what ambiguity it holds is unfortunately cast aside in the third act. This is when the story seems to embrace its roots, which is a shame when this route is the film's least compelling aspect. A shame, as what came before it was a riveting spin on the superhero story, told in a self-contained manner with originality, while also instilling a hopefulness within.

Archenemy is available on DVD and Digital Download from 22nd February. Visit Altitude for a range of places you can purchase it from.