I really didn’t care for writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s last feature 2019’s “Daniel Isn’t Real” (review here), but saw in him potential for something better. It’s just one year later and improvement is already here in the form of “Archenemy” (available in select theaters and on VOD beginning Fri. Dec. 11).
Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) is an intergalactic superhero who’s fallen through time and space to Earth where he’s powerless and spends his days going on a continuous bender. Nobody believes Max’s story save for the teenaged Hamster (Skylan Brooks), an aspiring street journalist. Hamster’s sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) peddles drugs for The Manager (Glenn Howerton of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) to keep a roof over their heads. A collection Indigo is supposed to make on The Manager’s behalf from Krieg (Paul Scheer) goes sideways placing her and Hamster in the crosshairs. Max teams with the teens to protect them and dismantle The Manager’s crime syndicate. Max’s home planet nemesis Cleo (Amy Seimetz) also factors into the action.
The best reasons to see “Archenemy” – aside from Mortimer’s progression as an artist (Seriously, his blend of live action and animation works worlds better here than in “Daniel” given the comic book-inspired content.) – are Manganiello and Howerton. Manganiello despite being a beefcake appears to be a nerd at heart – going so far as to host a star-studded Dungeons & Dragons game in his basement. After getting a taste of the superhero glut as Deathstroke during the closing credits of “Justice League,” Manganiello doubles down as Max Fist. Max is an interesting hero – or more specifically antihero – who’s as likely to discuss quantum physics as he is to barf up a bottle of bourbon. Manganiello convincingly plays both sides of this dichotomy. Howerton undergoes a physical transformation in his portrayal of The Manager adopting bleached blonde hair, sideburns, mustache and earring. The character is kinda like Dennis Reynolds only far more depraved. If Dennis’ moral compass is damaged – The Manager’s is decimated. He feels like an ‘80s action movie villain. Once “It’s Always Sunny” comes to a conclusion or while on breaks from the show, I’d love to see Howerton essay another heel role opposite somebody say like Jason Statham. He does it well enough here that I think he could hang as a heavy elsewhere.
“Archenemy” has a lot on its mind. It longs to show the plights of people on society’s fringes. Manganiello’s Max is a clear-cut metaphor for our soldiers and first responders who often seek solace in the bottle or with drugs following the things they’ve seen and done. His intentions while often altruistic aren’t always heroic and often border on psychotic. Mortimer also addresses racial and class inequality by having Howerton’s The Manager (who exploits a black youth before ultimately trying to snuff her out) don country club tennis whites for the finale. Speaking of the conclusion, it hints at a sequel for what could be a much more interesting movie. For the time being however this edgier incarnation of Peter Berg’s “Hancock” with a splash of James Gunn’s “Super” will suffice.