One of the year’s most ambitious superhero films
While most moviegoers might remember 2020 as the year The New Mutants finally premiered, or the first year in a decade that there wasn’t any new development within the MCU, it should also be remembered as the year that more original stories emerged within the superhero genre than ever before - and good ones at that! From André Øvredal’s Mortal to Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard and even Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's Project Power, there were so many new characters, new worlds, and new stories to explore this year. And while we're just about two weeks away from another first for the superhero genre - WarnerMedia’s Wonder Woman sequel going straight to VOD - this week, there's one more original entry to look out for: Archenemy.
Here we have one of the year’s most ambitious superhero films, not just in terms of story, but in terms of scope too. Yes, it’s a superhero film, but it’s also a thriller with a mystery that looms over it during it’s 95 minute runtime, There’s also a splash of animation too. As wild as it sounds though, director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s clear vision prevails and ultimately makes it all look effortless. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect though.
For instance, while the animation doesn’t feel too out of place, it’s definitely distracting - especially since it’s used for flashbacks. My biggest issue with the direction is that none of the action sequences have enough action. As a result, none of them are satisfying, especially when our main character is involved. He doesn’t fight his foes as much as he takes them down with a few blows. It’s the equivalent to watching One Punch Man, who if you’ve never seen the anime, spends more time listening to his foes talk about their agenda then fighting them.
The film revolves around a teenager who meets a homeless man named Max Fist that claims to be a superhero from another world. When the teenager and his sister get into trouble with some local gangsters though, the man becomes their (very) violent guardian; calling into question whether or not he really is a lost superhero or just a crazy bum.
Imagine if Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight had a baby with Disney’s Enchanted. That’s not only the impression this film’s trailer gives, it’s probably the best way to describe it too. Now, once again, it’s not perfect because there are some very egregious and unforgivable plot holes. However, another thing that I think Mortimer does incredibly well (in regards to the plot) is that he doesn’t give you an answer to the film’s overarching mystery immediately. One second, Max is taking down swarms of henchmen with his God-like strength. The next second he’s doing meth. Just when the smoke begins to clear, and you start to believe you know the truth about him, Mortimer makes you think twice, and I appreciated that. The mystery behind Max’s origin is the real heart of the film, and it really pays off when it’s finally revealed.
Going back to my issues with the film’s plot though, there are some pretty drastic (and random) costume changes in the second act that come out of nowhere. For instance, right as our three main characters go on the run, somehow Max finds time to design them new clothes? This also ties into my second issue with the film: the story’s timeline. A lot of this happens over the course of a couple of days, but it feels like everything happens all within a few hours. While the film is well paced, there’s never any sense of time, and as a result the story loses its sense of urgency.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Before he was Deathstroke, he was Flash Thompson. Before he was Sofia Vergara’s husband, he was in a bromance with Marshall Erickson in How I Met Your Mother. In a career that’s spanned a few decades, Joe Manganiello has played numerous different supporting characters in a wide variety of tv shows and films, but never has he been the absolute lead in a project. That is, up until now. As a manic bum with a mysterious past, he’s more than just fun and fascinating to watch. Simply put, he kills it. I’m honestly surprised it’s taken this long to see him in something like this because he more than proves he's got leading man potential.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say the whole ensemble was really good though. From the brother and sister duo he protects, played by Skylan Brooks and Zolee Griggs respectively, to an unrecognizable Paul Scheer, and even the brilliant Amy Seimetz, who’s filmography behind and in front of the camera continues to fascinate me, I don’t think there’s a single bad performance in this film. I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of these performances are award worthy, but each actor makes the very abstract material work. What could have very easily been a cheesy and campy film is elevated as a result.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Because the previously mentioned animated flashbacks are the only scenes featuring science fiction or superhero lore, the film isn’t too heavy on special effect. However, it more than makes up for it with it’s great use of practical effects and makeup. Not only does the pain inflicted to all of the characters look very real, but the way in which Max makes the film’s bad guys bleed in particular (and the sheer amount of blood) helps add to the ongoing mystery of his origin. In one of the first scenes that he leaps into action for example, you’ll wonder “Can an ordinary man really do that?”
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
After seeing Sound of Metal, every other film’s sound is just inferior.
In all seriousness though, there isn’t anything noteworthy done with the sound here. There’s definitely a stronger focus on how the film looks than how it sounds, but that doesn’t entirely ruin the film. I will say that I think that there was a missed opportunity in terms of the film’s soundtrack because I think that music could have added to the film’s tone and aesthetic exponentially.
In a genre that's become oversaturated with sequels, reboots, and cinematic universes, Archenemy is certainly entertaining enough to stand out. However, some unsatisfying action and large plot holes prevent it from packing a more powerful punch.
RLJE Films will release the action/thriller ARCHENEMY In Theaters, On Digital and On Demand December 11, 2020