‘Archenemy’ a Dark Entry To The Superhero Genre

by Jonah Desneux on December 9, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist up]

In Theaters, On Digital & On Demand Dec. 11.

Superhero fanatics can finally get their 2020 fix with Adam Egypt Mortimer’s hero indie flick Archenemy.

Replacing capes and color pop with foul language and a dreary cityscape, Mortimer paints the picture of a world without superheroes in a year without seeing heroes on the big screen. While nothing groundbreaking is brought to the table, it is still refreshing to see a different side to the superhero craze. Instead of Superman flying around fighting evil, Mortimer asks the question of what happens after the heroes save the day through the common trope of self-sacrifice. The film successfully rides the line of providing a genuine edge without going too far into the dramatics. The final results are well worth the time of fans and critics of the superhero genre.

Struggling with hope and fear in a hyper-violent crime-ridden city, teenagers Hamster (Skylan Brooks) and Indigo (Zolee Griggs) dedicate their lives to making enough money to leave and start a new life. The sibling pair go about this in different ways. Indigo is involved in the drug-dealing scene run by a mad hatter like crime boss known as The Manager (Glenn Howerton) while Hamster strives to make his way through the world of viral journalism. After following a lead on a story about Max Fist (Joe Manganiello), a local drunk who claims to be an all-powerful superhero from another reality, Hamster partners with the brooding man to accomplish his story and help Fist get back home and finally defeat his archenemy.

Archenemy does not break down barriers in superhero storytelling or what it means to be a superhero. The discussion of superhero power ethics and public perception has made its way into the mainstream from Marvel and DC blockbusters, The Boys on Amazon Prime, the original source material of the comics, and Disney’s take in The Incredibles franchise. Audiences even saw the idea of a drunk superhero all the way back in 2008 with Hancock.

All of this is to say that Archenemy simply misses its mark in focusing so heavily on bringing new criticisms and concepts to the table. There is nothing in the film that has not yet been explored and for that reason the film loses most of the weight in its marketing and deeper complexity. Getting past the film’s attempt to provide a new voice in the genre, it is able to find its footing in the central story, which by itself is immensely engaging. 

When a commentary misses its mark, it does not mean the film is an outright failure. The directors messaging may become subdued, but if the structure is good enough the film can survive on its own during its runtime. Post watch intellectual discussions won’t have the same effect, but as a film that presents itself as being a different kind of hero film, its biggest take away will still be the impressive visuals and larger-than-life characters. As a plot-oriented feature, it’s still well made and enjoyable.

The look is not that of a Marvel movie, made to be visually bleaker like all of the DCU, or a monotone indie film with a few superheroes sprinkled in. Instead, carefully crafted color choices of dark blues and blacks wash the city and its inhabitants in a grim light which reflects the depressing society that has come to be. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins works wonders capturing the drab and transforming it into its greater purpose in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Archenemy genuinely feels like a mature comic painted on the big screen and it is all thanks to the impressive visual work. 

The dull yet pleasing backdrop also allows the film’s eccentric characters to flawlessly pop out in a grand fashion that they do. The more serious moments of the film are not as powerful as intended and the dramatic climax fails to reach its potential, but the faults in the story are effectively balanced out by the amount of heart oozing out of the characters. Good or bad, the characters in Archenemy are written with grace and full of infectious energy that keeps the film sailing smoothly. 

Both Hamster and Indigo take on the role of the lovable youngster, who bring joy to the screen giving audiences a noble good to root for. Brooks and Griggs outperform the archetype they were cast as, bringing a charismatic and sincere portrayal of their good-hearted characters in a God-forsaken world. Manganiello is captivating in his anti-hero role, emulating the feel of a hard-boiled detective during the prime of film noir. Howerton also seems to have fun taking on the role of the wildcard big bad. Not as absurdly freighting as Ewan McGregor was in a similar role from this year in Birds of Prey, but Howerton’s more grounded crazy allows for the stakes to be higher as his acts of murder carry more weight and suspense.

Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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