Why embark on a mission to Mars when the real cosmic adventure can be found on home turf? Aspiring journalist Hamster (Skylan Brooks) has his world rocked when a homeless drunk named Max Fist (Joe Manganiello) lands him the scoop of a lifetime. Believing he’s writing a profile piece to expose the effects of drug dealing in his city, Hamster discovers this bedraggled man is more than meets the eye. So, too, is Adam Egypt Mortimer’s third movie, Archenemy, a genre-bending mind trip that prefers to ground itself in fantastical suggestion. Are we part of a long con, or did intergalactic superhero Max Fist really crash-land on Earth, currently on the hunt for his nemesis Cleo Ventrik (Amy Seimetz)? Buckle up because unraveling this mystery is going to take a lot more than a suspension of disbelief.
In the beginning, there was a duel fought in the skies above Chromium, a far off space metropolis in an alternate dimension. Neon-crisp animation depicts two individuals falling through the atmosphere, one of whom describes the fight via voiceover. Max Fist recounts how despite preventing Ventrik from unleashing her “void” superweapon on the city, he had to rip a hole through space to survive the infinite drop. The vortex he created allowed passage into our reality, with the rival pair landing on Earth several years apart. At least, that’s the story Max regales bar patrons with. It seems Hamster is the only one willing to listen, fascinated by the level of detail in Fist’s recollection. Is this guy truly a Superman-type who’s fallen on hard times, or are methamphetamines producing more hallucinogenic acuteness these days?
Whether he’s telling the truth or in a permanent “crossfade” state, Max Fist is proof that sometimes it’s worth hearing out transients. Whatever led them to living on the streets is vital information that better informs how society fails itself. Maybe from these personal anecdotes, we can pinpoint what must be done to stop this poverty cycle. Focus more on mental health services, drug rehabilitation, affordable housing, for instance? Even if there’s no current feasible solution, one should always keep some in mind rather than pretend vagrancy doesn’t exist around every block. Even though Archenemy can be a hodgepodge of competing genres, its throughline message of aiding the downtrodden cuts through the noise.
The character with the most promise is Hamster’s older sister, Indigo (Zolee Griggs). The blue-haired marvel works for a drug lord who calls himself The Manager (Glenn Howerton). He’s your typical slick-haired gangster honcho, thinking he’s suave when really he’s just a creep. Indigo puts on a polite smile, but deep down, she’s loathing every minute of serving this psychopath. It’s all for Hamster’s sake; she hopes to earn enough cash to get him to college and her as far away from the criminal underworld as possible. After a drug sale goes from weird to deadly, Indigo realizes her only chance to escape this life with a big score is now. The two partner up with Max Fist, who provides increasing evidence that he’s actually the burly defender of justice he claims.
Unfortunately, Archenemy begins ignoring the siblings once it reaches the titular climax. Indigo, especially, is cast aside until the script disingenuously comes back to her with a desperate offering. It’s one thing to complete a character’s arc when least expected, but it’s a whole other matter when there’s no setup for their growth. Mortimer ends his superhero-cyberpunk hybrid with sequel haste in mind instead of properly addressing the weirdness that unfolds.
Furthermore, as aesthetically pleasing as the flashback animation is, the performances of Manganiello and Seimetz have a hard time matching the stylish badassery of their hand-drawn counterparts. Their live-action versions are dull by comparison, more into lamenting about their turbulent past than spellbinding us with a showdown for the ages. For a feud that’s supposed to span across space and time, Archenemy is all boast and no bang.