[Beyond Fest Review] ARCHENEMY
Courtesy of RLJE Films

ARCHENEMY is the latest film from writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer (Daniel Isn’t Real) and centers around a supposed superhero named Max Fist who helps protect a local teen and his sister after they find themselves targeted by a local drug cartel. The film stars Joe Manganiello (“True Blood”), Skylan Brooks (“Empire”), Zolee Griggs (“W-Tang: An American Saga”), Amy Seimetz (Pet Semetary) and Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).

To best describe the plot of the film, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “In ARCHENEMY, Max Fist (Manganiello) 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 (Brooks). Together, they take to the streets to wipe out the local drug syndicate and its vicious crime boss known as The Manager.

Taking on the lead role of Max Fist is actor Joe Manganiello. Known for his roles as Alcide Herveaux in HBO’s “True Blood” and Big Dick Richie in Magic Mike XXL, Manganiello takes his good looks, physique, and charms and transforms that into a hardened, grimy, unwashed portrayal for Max Fist. That said, it felt like Manganiello was born to play Max Fist as he was able to slip into that persona of a gritty action/comic book character with what felt like genuine ease. As a massive fan of the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragon, it’s no wonder Manganiello would want to take on this project as it’s definitely something within the wheelhouse of what he loves.

Also starring in the film is Skylan Brooks, an LA native, who had his breakout role in 2013’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. Brooks plays the character of Hamster, a wannabe journalist whose goal is to share real people’s stories from the streets of LA, which is how he gets linked up with Fist. Hamster is sensitive and caring and one of the only people that give Fist the benefit of the doubt and a chance to prove who he really is. Opposite Brooks is Zolee Griggs who plays Indigo, an up-and-coming drug dealer who is doing the best she can to provide for her brother, Hamster, and protect him from the cruelty of the world. Most in the horror genre will recognize Griggs from her role in the 2019’s horror/comedy BIT but it’s her role in ARCHENEMY that’s going to skyrocket Griggs into the spotlight. Zolee steals the show with her performance as Indigo, navigating the complexities of what she needs to do to survive while also taking on the parental role for Hamster.

ARCHENEMY also has performances by Amy Seimetz as the obscure Cleo, the “archenemy” of Fist, who created a mysterious device known as The Void Machine, and Glenn Howerton as The Manager, Indigo’s boss, reminding us all, in his slicked-back blonde hair and gold chains, that he’s an actor with immense talent that should be utilized more often. Additionally, there’s a fun cameo by Paul Sheer as a coked-out drug dealer that Indigo must meet with to prove to The Manager that she’s more than capable of taking on more work. This is one of my favorite scenes of the film and one I think people will get a huge kick out of.

Courtesy of RLJE Films

As for the story itself, it was rather straight-forward with minimal surprises but overall is fun and energetic. I felt the beginning was a bit slow-moving in terms of setting up the plot but when Fist decides to help Hamster and Indigo after they run into trouble, the pacing becomes much more exciting. One issue with the story was I felt like Fist changed rather quickly from being consistently ill-tempered to someone who takes on the role of protector for these kids. I think there needed to be more of a build-up to that switch for it to have felt more natural. That said, I think the story as a whole is really interesting and I liked how Mortimer brought in topics such as string theory and the existence of other dimensions as that tied in well with Fist and Cleo’s storyline.

As far as the visuals and fight scenes, I think this is where the film really shined. One scene, in particular, that I really loved was done in slow motion and takes place in a dining area where Fist finds himself in a battle of “fists” (see what I did there) with one of The Manager’s underlings. Additionally, Fist also comes face-to-face with a car in a battle of “who’s the stronger of the two” that made for a dangerous yet entertaining experience shared between Hamster and Fist. Even though the film features quite a bit of violence it surprisingly never goes overboard with the gore.

As for the presentation of the visuals, it was really impressive to see the comic-book illustrations mesh with the real-life components of the world. Seeing those two aspects collide was really rad, especially when Fist first lands in our world after escaping the dimension he’s from. I also enjoyed the use of neon colors, whether bright or subdued, that splashed across the screen. There was a lot of purples, pinks, reds, and of course, blues, which I think added a touch of fantasy to the otherwise realistic setting of Los Angeles.

Though I don’t think ARCHENEMY is as strong as Adam Egypt Mortimer’s predecessor, Daniel Isn’t Real, there’s still a lot to enjoy with the film. The best way to describe it is it’s a gonzo sci-fi/superhero film that is injected with neon-infused violence and chaos. The performances were great, with the standouts being Brooks and Griggs, though Manganiello feels right at home in this type of role. Even though the film didn’t hit all the notes for me, I think it gives the superhero genre a modern and realistic feel that is absent from a lot of their big-budget counterparts and for that, I can appreciate what the film has to offer.

ARCHENEMY will arrive in theatres, On Demand, and Digital on December 11, 2020 from RLJE Films.

Shannon McGrew
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