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  Archenemy Superhero Shuffle
Year: 2020
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Stars: Joe Manganiello, Skylan Brooks, Zolee Griggs, Glenn Howerton, Paul Scheer, Amy Seimetz, Joseph D. Reitman, Jessica Allain, Mac Brandt, Christopher Guyton, Roy Lee Jones, Kieran Gallagher, Luis Kelly-Duarte, Jeremy Hawkins
Genre: Action, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: He calls himself Max Fist (Joe Manganiello), and in his mind he was a great hero - in a parallel universe that he fell out of and into this one. He will tell anyone who listens about his previous life battling the evil Cleo, his archenemy who he fought for the planet he came from, but after various encounters he was the worse for wear and was forced to use a black hole to transport him to Earth. Here he has become an alcoholic down and out, wandering the streets, visiting bars when he has the money for drink, and picking scraps out of bins to eat. It's a long way to fall for a saviour of the Universe...

He can't be telling the truth, can he? Hamster (Skylan Brooks) does not know, but what he does know is that he could make some cash on the internet if he manages to get this self-proclaimed "superhero" viral... It's some mark of how superhero movies were perceived as taking over the world when the low budget variety started to appear as well. Of course, there had been superhero adventures on a more limited set of means than the Marvel Cinematic Universe since before that was a box office behemoth, but post-those there was a sense that anything even vaguely associated with that sort of plotline was doing some serious riding on coattails to drum up attention and profits.

Enter Adam Egypt Mortimer, writer (with Luke Passmore) and director of this indie opus who had been making his name as a minor auteur of ambitiously themed horror movies, also on the indie scene, and indeed this had made its production happen by internet crowdfunding rather than studio backing. That may set off alarm bells that he was in thrall to a bunch of self-proclaimed advisors who wanted to see this and that happen in the film they had helped bring into being, but on viewing Archenemy it appeared this was all going as Mortimer had wanted it to, it had a certain integrity that indicated no matter how far from the mainstream it strayed, he had confidence in his ideas.

The question you were supposed to be asking throughout, until the last ten minutes anyway, was whether Max's delusions were real or the ramblings of an unfortunate who had taken in the pop culture of the zeitgeist to manufacture his own mythos when the reality was a lot sadder. Though actually, if he was telling the truth it was equally as sad as it would have been had he merely been mentally deranged. Every so often there would be an indication leaning one way or the other. Meanwhile, as Max suffers his ghosts of a possible past, Hamster and his sister Indigo (blue-haired Zolee Griggs) get too close to crime, as she has turned messenger girl for the local gangster (Glenn Howerton), and when she visits a drug-addled madman (Paul Scheer in a memorably ghastly little scene) at his behest it all grows too dangerous for comfort.

Which is why going on the run seems to be the most sensible course of action, but Max is being emboldened by his one-boy fan club, and when he gets his hands on some weaponry, murder results as he goes all Punisher on the gangsters' asses. Though perhaps a closer comparison would be The Fisher King, or even Joker if it for instance had starred a down on his luck Superman, as we saw animated flashbacks/hallucinations to Max in the other dimensions that were reminiscent of nineteen-seventies cosmic comics, a refreshing change from the references most superhero efforts make. But Archenemy was flawed: it was in need of some honing to get to the stage you imagine all were aiming for, just that bit too scrappy and far from slick. You could say that gave it character, and it did, but it was awkward rather than quirky. Yet worth taking a chance on if the usual superheroes had worn you out, as if nothing else it demonstrated the versatility, as well as the drawbacks, of the style. Music by Matt Hill.

[ARCHENEMY, released 22nd February on DVD & Digital, is also available on the Altitude.film website. Click here to watch.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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