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Review: Archenemy – “A psychotronic superhero movie that will scorch your eyes and bend your mind”

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Released on digital and DVD on the 22nd of February, Archenemy is written and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind of Hate, Daniel Isn’t Real) and stars Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Skylan Brooks (Empire), Zolee Griggs (Wu-Tang: An American Saga) and Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

Max Fist (Manganiello) is a homeless man on the streets of L.A. who will tell you his story if you buy him a whisky. When good and drunk enough Max will recount how he was a superhero from another dimension who once saved his home planet of Chromium by punching a hole through space-time into our reality.

Hamster (Brooks) is a street kid who is desperate to become a digital content creator and is tasked by the owner of the current hottest website to “show me something cool” if he wants to get his foot in the door. Hamster turns social media gonzo reporter, following Max around and ‘gramming his life and ex-superhero stories.

The pair soon become fast friends so when Hamster’s drug-dealing sister Indigo (Griggs) gets in bother with the local Class A’s baron, ‘The Manager’ (Howerton), Max steps in to save her. But is Max really a superhero from another planet or just a madman who only has the strength of ten when he’s full of crystal meth?

Joe Manganiello is clearly two things in Archenemy: 1) having a blast and b) not precious one bit about his image. He plays Max as a lunatic who is out of control and happy to wreak bloody carnage when he decides to be a hero again. He gets his shirt off for a perhaps contractually obligated eye candy shot, but other than that is dirty, crazy and perhaps thrillingly dangerously delusional.

Howerton too is enjoying himself immensely as a bleached blonde moustachioed drug kingpin who likes to joke about dealing crack to ten-year-olds Always Sunny style and must have needed to crunch down a fist full of Rennie’s every time Egypt Mortimer yelled “Cut!” for all the scenery he chews. The ‘kids’ Brooks and Griggs don’t fare so well. I may be old and out of touch – “No, it’s the children who are wrong” – but I found both frustratingly annoying leads that inspired little to no sympathy let alone empathy.

Egypt Mortimer is a director whose previous films I love and he is really pushing everything to the limit here. The story is massive and he enthuses the whole film with heaps of style. Every shot seems to be staged to be done in a way you’ve not seen it done before and he utilises some large and incredible animated sequences to fill in Max’s backstory and intergalactic escapades. These do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of budget relief but are also gloriously bonkers kaleidoscopic trips that will leave your smile as large as your pupils.

An absolutely killer score from giallo-synthwave pioneer ‘Umberto’, and costumes and sets with a carefully curated hyper-stylisation that evokes comic book-styling without being overt are excellent too, but Archenemy doesn’t always quite mesh together and there are some pacing and energy issues. It may not always quite work, but it is never boring and always trying to do something crazy or cool.

Archenemy is a psychotronic superhero movie that will scorch your eyes and bend your mind and is released on DVD and digital on the 22nd of February. You can watch it here.

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