We’re living in the era of the anti-superhero. After decades of caped and masked crusaders being the toast of the town, now it seems like the only thing cooler than calling yourself a superhero is not being one. In Archenemy, Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) arrives on Earth under some mysterious and confusing circumstances, claiming to be from another dimension. But when anybody dares to call him a superhero, he ragefully declares that he is decidedly not. Destitute and down on his luck, Fist drinks away the days and attempts to tell his story to anybody who will listen, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, Hamster (Skylan Brooks) and Indigo (Zolee Griggs), brother and sister, are just trying to get by in a city that’s been infiltrated by the crime and corruption of a local drug ring. Indigo, who works for the cartel, is just trying to make enough money to support her brother, meanwhile Hamster (yes, his name is Hamster) has dreams of being a journalist. One day, Hamster waltzes into the offices of a Buzzfeed-style news outlet and asks for a job. He’s told that if he can find an interesting story on the streets that will go viral, they’ll consider hiring him full-time. Yeah, that’s how these things work! Anyway, Hamster sets out to find his muse and you probably see where this is going.
Hamster runs into Max as he’s attempting to punch his way through a wall in a dark alley. Max volunteers to tell Hamster his story in exchange for some booze. As Max tells it, he ended up on Earth 15 years older than when he left his home planet of Chromium and he’s desperate to find the Crystal Cave, his source of power. Hamster, who at one point compares himself to Hunter S. Thompson, begins to document this mystical quest on his phone, simultaneously helping Max and securing his own future as a proprietor of clickbaity, viral Internet videos.
The movie is intercut with comic book-style illustrations of Max’s past on Chromium. The montages are effective kaleidoscopes of bright hues of blue, pink and purple, quite visually arresting, if a bit difficult to follow and connect back to the proceedings on the ground.
As Hamster and Max are making names for themselves with bored 9-to-5’ers looking to avoid spreadsheets, Indigo meets up with the syndicate’s kingpin (Paul Scheer) in an attempt to move up within the organization. Scheer, donning tattoos and a red Speedo, is a bit of comedic relief and also seems to be in a different movie than everybody else. After the encounter turns ill-fated, Indigo steals a large sum of money and, just like that, she’s on the run.
The Manager (Glenn Howerton), a generic and ominous name if there ever was one, and his crew eventually track down Indigo and the money, but Max comes to the rescue, at least for the time being. Max, who at this point is apparently a viral sensation, turns into a sort of Robocop Ralph Lauren and equips both himself and Hamster with new gear for the battle to come.
With Indigo and Hamster on the move, Indigo decides to pull over to the side of the road to take a nap which IS NOT A GOOD MOVE IF YOU’RE BEING CHASED BY A GROUP OF DRUG VIGILANTES. Things go expectedly haywire as the future and past collide, with Cleo (a deliciously icy Amy Seimetz), Max’s former lover on Chromium, arriving to help explain how Max arrived on Earth and what the future holds for the city.
Written and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Daniel Isn’t Real), Archenemy is infused with style and an intriguing premise, but the execution is lacking. Joe Manganiello, who certainly looks the part of a makeshift renegade, fails to bring enough emotional heft or levity to make you care about Max. Furthermore, there’s a missed opportunity to dive into Max’s story – the entire conundrum of whether or not he’s telling the truth. There’s a real chance for mystery, for the story to hinge on what you want to believe. Instead, it barely even ponders the question.
It’s a movie that makes you yearn for an old fashioned hero.
* ½ out of *****
Archenemy will be released in theaters, On Demand and digital on December 11th from RLJE Films.