The subject of fan service can be something of a minefield. Some self-proclaimed critical auteurs revel in scoffing at it, it has had some net-positive results. For example, Rosario Dawson’s casting as Ahsoka Tano in The Mandalorian. As the entire last hour of Avengers: Endgame reminded us, though, there is a critical balance that needs to be struck.
Archenemy, the new film from writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer, leans heavy on indulgence. Sometimes even tipping the scale, but without being overtly off-putting. Backed by Legion M, a fan-owned entertainment company, the overall vibe of the film could be summed up with: “Troy and Abed make a mooo-vie.”
It’s a mishmash of a gritty action yarn mixed with superhero mythology. The former unfolds in live action against the constantly rain-slicked streets of a city in the (mostly) dark of night. The latter is told with a kind of comic book-style stills, with the camera panning across artwork like Ken Burns panning across a Civil War photograph. The story, meanwhile, is a patchwork of origin story and ’80s-era wish fulfillment. Although the nostalgia itself often feels detached from the sentiments of anyone who happened to live through the Reagan era and the cinematic splendor it helped inspire.
Joe Manganiello, who also produces, stars as the one-time hero who protected residents of another dimension. His punches have the power of kicks granted him the ability to punch through 11-dimensional space to defeat his archenemy (hence the title). Anyway, that’s how he ends up in our dimension. Oh, and his name is Max Fist. Max Fist!
There’s a downside, of course. The extra-dimensional journey hasn’t worked out for Max Fist, who wanders the streets bearded and unwashed, sort of like Hancock, just without superpowers. It’s even hinted at throughout that he might just be a drunk who also happens to have a Herculean physique.
To ground the story in reality (for lack of a better word), Max Fist befriends a plucky young teen named Hamster (Skylan Brooks), who’s trying to break into the world of viral content creation. He finds it, of course, telling the story of Max Fist, with short videos explaining his convoluted backstory. While Hamster is wide-eyed and naive, his sister Indigo (Zolee Griggs) is savvy and street-smart, though she ends up running afoul of the local drug dealing outfit.
While Manganiello brings a sense of tragic gravitas to Max Fist, it’s in the subplots where Archenemy has its best moments. Notably Glenn Howerton, (Dennis from Always Sunny), as the criminal overlord, known only as The Manager. With years of experience in playing a sociopath, Howerton delightfully chews the scenery to the point there should be flecks of plywood caught in his suburban dad mustache. Similarly, Paul Scheer breaks typecasting to all-to-briefly appear in a noteworthy cameo as Krieg, one of The Manager’s associates.
Despite the questionable nostalgia and manic inclusion of cliches, there is something watchable about Archenemy, even veering into the charming. Mortimer, who revisited the ‘imaginary friend, but homicidal’ premise in last years Daniel Isn’t Real (which quoted yours truly in the trailer), is proving he has a stylistic flair for telling stories that are more engaging beyond how their plot summaries might sound. Even those that pack in worn-out fan-favorite tropes like sardines in a can. And name their main character Max Fist.
Archenemy is currently available on VOD.