Adam Egypt Mortimer's Joe Manganiello-starring indie superhero flick Archenemy boasts some superb ideas and a few innovative ways of sidestepping its budgetary limitations.
Clearly shot for all kinds of nothing, Archenemy is easy to poke holes in. It really is a zero budget affair, so how do you possibly hope to realise a plot that involves a Superman-like warrior from another dimension, who fought some great battles with tremendous super-powers, and landed up on Earth, robbed of his powers and drinking himself into oblivion? Well what you probably don't do is patch up any possible effects sequences with kinda odd animated graphic novel-esque stop-motion.
The admittedly flawed attempts to transcend budgetary restrictions by way of mad graphic novel flashbacks are strangely commendable
Yet Archenemy has a trick up its sleeve. It was produced by SpectreVision, the Elijah Wood co-run company that gave us the mad as a bag of hammers Nic Cage flicks Mandy and Color Out of Space, as well as the Wood-starring Daniel Isn't Real, which is kinda strangely supposed to operate in the same universe as Archenemy (a la Unbreakable/Split). SpectreVision steeped all of these flicks in wacky 80s purple neons, with electronic scores and mad visuals, and whilst it appears to have run out of rope to fully imbue this latest effort with the kind of trippy insanity it's become known for, the admittedly flawed attempts to transcend budgetary restrictions by way of mad graphic novel flashbacks are strangely commendable - almost like the Black Freighter sequences in Watchmen, only here shot through with, yes, you guessed it, wacky 80s purple neons.
Archenemy enjoys a solid lead in Joe Manganiello, whose cinematic career kind-of semi-started and semi-ended with superhero flicks (from Spider-Man to Justice League), making it ironic that he finds his home here, washed out and ruined by his former super-hero glories, shackles that he was robbed of by a sacrifice that seems to be from aeons past, but is actually from aeons present - an alternate reality; a parallel dimension that seems just out of his grasp.
Indeed, the film would be a whole lot better if it held its focus on Manganiello's mangled wretch for the duration, losing points - and the audience - as it drifts to requisite modern generation youths and their we-know-more-about-the-world-we're-living-in attitude, following some street-blogger and his attempts to turn Manganiello's drunk ramblings of his superhero origins into a colourful symbol of street justice. Of course, what we're waiting for is his words becoming a reality, with Archenemy running out of steam before it reaches its climax; a shame really as the final act revelations give it a nice edge.
Manganiello's decent enough, as is his real antagonist, but a lot of the in-between is filler, and SpectreVision's other efforts handled filler better, even if that largely amounted to melting the picture into waxy neon purples and overpowering you with synth
A bigger budget and more even-handed direction would have certainly worked wonders with these ideas, perhaps heightening that sense of utter delusion on the part of the lead character of "Max Fist", stripping out the pointless disaffected youth and, even if they kept the kinda odd but innovative graphic novel-ly bits, better integrating them into the live action stuff. Manganiello's decent enough, as is his real antagonist, but a lot of the in-between is filler, and SpectreVision's other efforts handled filler better, even if that largely amounted to melting the picture into waxy neon purples and overpowering you with synth.
It'd be interesting to see whether SpectreVision churns out another one of these - the Glass to book-end the Unbreakable/Split thing it's got going on here (hopefully more satisfactorily than Glass did) - but a betting man would expect nobody to be paying attention even if it does. Which is a bit of a shame. SpectreVision is onto something with its productions, and here's hoping Archenemy - which is far from its strongest feature - is a valiant effort in the vague direction of the company's next future cult classic, rather than a step off the path.
Archenemy is available on Digital to rent and buy from 22nd February 2021
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