Archenemy

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Joe Manganiello as Max Fist
"Michelle Laine's brilliant costume design provides a neat aesthetic link between animation and live action."

A man walks into a bar. His clothes are battered, his hair is unkempt and he has probably smelled better. "I used to be a superhero," he says, and tells a fantastic tale in exchange for bourbon. But what if it's true?

Belief in heroes is something that society tends to knock out of us, and more so in some places than in others. This city is tough, grimy and crime-ridden. Its streets are full of homeless people with bizarre interpretations of what's happening around them. Despite all this, young Hamster (Skylan Brooks) has somehow managed to hold onto his belief. He wants to be a writer and as such, he remains open to people's stories. He listens to the ragged stranger as nobody else has done - learns that his name is Max Fist and that, apparently he found himself trapped in this universe after gong all out to save the city he loved in another. But whilst Hamster is getting excited about his new-found hero, his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) is facing danger every day in order to support him.

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There are different kinds of heroism at work here - and villainy likewise, from the vicious local gangsters whose business Indigo gets entangled in, to the supervillain referenced in the title, whom Max fears may still be out there and looking for him. This comparison of the mundane and the overblown appears throughout the film, enabling director Adam Egypt Mortimer to tell a big story with a small budget. Scenes from the universe that Max describes are lovingly rendered as comic-book style animation, capturing star Joe Manganiello's classic superhero-style looks, which are heavily obscured on film for most of the running time. Michelle Laine's brilliant costume design provides a neat aesthetic link between animation and live action.

Manganiello's charismatic presence is important to keeping viewers engaged, even if Max's superpowers are somewhat limited (he's like a less rubbish version of Nightfist). There's also some lovely work from Amy Seimetz towards the end, but credit should go to the young cast members, who hold their own. Griggs brings a soulful weariness to her role, suggesting that Indigo has already seen more than enough of some aspects of the world, whilst Brooks is very likeable as the wide-eyed innocent who still has enough savvy to worry about his sister and argue with her about her conviction that his future is more important than her own.

Mortimer manages to do a lot of world building despite using few locations. Although the film's limitations are clear, it has an essential integrity and flair which are likely to make it a favourite of genre cinema clubs and a great choice for small retrospectives. Taken together with 2019's Daniel isn't Real, it's bound to leave viewers wondering what Mortimer could achieve with proper investment.



You can find details of how to see Archenemy here

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2021
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Max Fist claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to earth, where he has no powers. No one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster.

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Writer: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Starring: Skylan Brooks, Joe Manganiello, Zolee Griggs, Amy Seimetz

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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