Today’s Hollywood and film industry is filled with superheroes and the studios can make those most bang with their buck. The MCU is on top with DCEU trying to catch up while a few others are making their way—I’m looking at you Valant Comics. There have been a few indies and lesser-known comic book films that have slid under the radar but Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Archenemy stands out as an unconventional superhero flick and should not be missed.
Archenemy stars Deathstroke himself, Joseph Manganiello. The story follows the vice loving homeless man Max Fist (Manganiello) and the idea that he might just be an intergalactic superhero underneath all those rags. The plot plays with the concept of what could be someone’s reality vs. insanity and does not hold back the violent exploits of what that might cause.
I was able to talk to Adam Egypt Mortimer about his filmmaking process, working with Manganiello, what could be in store if a sequel is made, and what the director is working on next.
It was great to meet you at Beyond Fest. I was the guy who crept up and I was like, “Hey man, how you are doing?”
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I’m so glad that you were there. That was such a cool event.
Where did the idea for Archenemy come from?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Well, I’ve always loved comic books. I’ve never stopped reading comic books and I’ve always felt like with comics—stories about superheroes can do so many different kinds of things. It’s not in comics, it’s not a genre. It’s like a set of possibilities. And so, therefore, starting decades and decades ago, comic books were able to do things with superheroes and with the genres that they play in and what the aesthetics of it, and really treat the audience in a very sophisticated way. So, when I started thinking about Archenemy, I was thinking, “Well, now that the people seeing movies have seen so many superhero films. We can treat them with the same kind of sophisticated way and do different kinds of things. Use different kinds of genres and make a movie about superheroes that feels different.” And so, I sort of felt like there was a lot of interesting possibilities in that idea.
So, was Joe Manganiello always the first choice for Max Fist?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Well, when I wrote it, I hadn’t really been thinking about it in terms of casting. But, we sent him the script and he had been a fan of my previous movie, Daniel Isn’t Real. He’s a huge comic book fan and he loves superheroes and he has played in the superhero space himself. He’s also always looking for ways to be a more dramatic actor and to show off his dramatic chops. So when he read the script, I think he thought of it as the perfect way to blend those two things. And he’s great because he’s so physical and he loves to do stunts and punch people, throw people through windows, but he also really gravitated to the idea of playing the realism of this gritty character.
Yeah. It was kind of like work and play at the same time with the throwing punches and do all these kinds of stunts.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah. But that stuff is so stressful. Especially, on the kind of limited budget and time we had. We have these shots where he breaks through a door and tackle somebody and he punches them, and all these things are going on behind him. We only have one shot to do it. What was really helpful with him is that he has a lot of precision work with his physicality that you can dial this stuff in and he’s not just sort of wildly throwing punches.
Speaking about dialing; Paul Scheer’s character…was that all him or did he have to dial back or dial it up? Because he was a pretty wild-ass character in Archenemy.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah, I know. I really loved that scene. I loved that scene when I wrote it and it was super exciting to be able to get Paul. What’s so great about him is that he really uses everything in the scene. He understood what the character was, which was a guy who was super hopped up on drugs and pretty crazy. We presented it with, “Okay, you’re wearing red underwear and snakeskin boots and you’ve got all these drugs and bottles and a gun and face tattoos.” He just went to work on it.
Mortimer uses animation to deepen the story of Archenemy. The style gives it a superhero origin vibe with an acid drop of surrealist nature. Something that suited well with the mindset of the Max Fist character and the world he inhabited.
The animation is pretty interesting. Was that always going to be the style of the animation?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I think that the question for me was always—those sequences that are animated— “How do we separate them from the rest of the movie?” The things we’re seeing in the live-action are what’s really happening. The things that we’ve seen in the animation or these things where we don’t know if they’re memories or fantasies or nightmares. So, I had to figure out a way to make them feel really separate. I was thinking a lot about the way they use animation in the movie Pink Floyd, The Wall. I was thinking about the art style in some of these amazing comic books from the eighties. Particularly, I was thinking about Elektra: Assassin and Daredevil: Love and War. Which are these two Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz collaborations that approach superheroes in this very sort of surrealist and impressionist expressionist kind of way. So, ultimately when I decided on animation, I wanted to make sure that the animation would feel very sort of rough and abstract. It wasn’t about being literal and showing sort of—here’s very specific and exactly what happened. It was more about leaving an impression of it; which is why the colors are so vivid and specific and limited. Sometimes it looks more like dream imagery than science fiction imagery. I think that provided a really sharp contrast, but then also there’s this sort of “Roger Rabbit” effect where sometimes the animation is coming in behind him in real life. So there’s a blend, even though it’s so different.
Yeah, the animation did remind me a lot of Ralph Bakshi or Salvador Dali’s style of weirdness. It was very unreal.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah, cool.
The movie is violent. It’s not super violent, but there is some rated “R” type of materials.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah. He definitely smashes the guy’s face in and breaks his neck. Yeah. There’s a lot of mishaps that happened.
Was there anything that you shot that you had to cut out of Archenemy? Maybe it was too violent?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Oh, no, no, absolutely not. All of the violence that we shot was in. And if I had had time, I probably would have added more.
Mortimer’s candid and humorous nature of his answer caused me to take a moment to enjoy it with a good laugh.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I mean, and that’s what the fun of making a movie like this is. It’s an independent movie made with SpectreVision and so we can kind of do anything. And the idea of blending sort of this sincere, almost wholesome relationship with Hamster (Skylan Brooks) and then really extreme violent moments. Those kinds of different tones and feelings is what’s so exciting about trying to do a project like this for me.
So, later it’s revealed that Max Fist and Cleo (Amy Seimetz), his wife, came through the portal and that’s how they ended up on Earth. Is it possible that somebody else could have come through the portal and there’s another person from their planet that’s on Earth?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Oh yeah. It’s possible. Yeah, start your fan theories now.
Yeah. This movie is ripe with fan theories. I think that’s why I gravitated towards Archenemy so much during the Beyond Festival.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah, man. And I would love to do more in the world of Archenemy. I have some ideas about other stories that could spring from what we’ve seen and maybe I’ll have a chance to do that, but I don’t know yet. I think there’s a lot going in the world of it.
BIG HEADS UP: WE GET INTO ARCHENEMY SPOILER TERRITORY FROM HERE ON OUT
During the movie you play with the idea that Max Fist might actually just be an alcoholic or just plain crazy but later we get some validity to his story. Did you ever plan to leave it ambiguous instead?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: No, I think I always wanted to have that kind of reveal. I think that the question was more of, “How much did I want people to think that it wasn’t true? How much of the sense of uncertainty was important to the movie?” I didn’t necessarily want to play it like it’s a huge twist. I wanted to play it more like it was an emotional change and the things that you’re realizing about him aren’t just–whether or not the superhero thing is true, but who really was he, and was he really a good guy? Those kinds of questions were sort of, “What’s his real motivation?” I think those are more interesting. So there was a lot of playing around with that and changing sort of the weight of how that would play out. I definitely knew there was always going to be a moment where he would get shot spray blue blood everywhere. That would be a fantastic moment.
Archenemy has a lot of blue tint to it and Indigo (Zolee Griggs) stands for blue and she has blue hair and blue clothing. Was it your intention to telegraph the ending for her character or was it coincidental that it worked out in that way?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Oh yeah, no, the colors are not coincidentally my movie. I try to use so few of them and they really tell these stories. There’s a relationship between, like, the pink energy and Max’s use of that color in his costume and Hamster wearing the pink jacket and then Cleo and Indigo with blue. I was definitely trying to sort of set up these cosmic threads using the color of the world and the colors that people dressed in. I find that kind of thing is among the most interesting for me and in filmmaking, is how you can use color like that. You’re creating an experience out of the color and creating something that’s immersive. And then you’re also sort of saying something a little bit outside of the story with the colors as well.
With that being said, Indigo gets her powers and it seems—depending on your perspective—Max Fist is a villain or a hero that lays waste to everything around him. Is that something that could follow Indigo herself?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I don’t know. I mean we’ll see. We’ll see what happens in the future.
The ending of Archenemy is pretty straightforward, but I couldn’t help but ask for the possibility of a sequel of what could be in store for the audience if one was to be made.
I know you mentioned a little bit earlier about “doing more in the world of Archenemy”. Could you share any ideas of what would be a sequel to this movie if it would ever get made?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I had the idea that it would take place sort of right where the movie ends and deal with the surviving characters and where they go and what happens. But it would also go backwards and sort of show a parallel to fill in more of the story of what was happening with Max on Chromia. And it would be a parallel between the two of them, which I think would be really interesting. I wrote that as an outline for a graphic novel but it would work equally well as a movie. I’m not sure about the logistics and creating it quite yet.
I think it would be really interesting to see Hamster “idolizing” Max Fist and the whole superhero lifestyle change if it’s somebody that he personally knows.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah, yeah. I would love to explore that dynamic.
Is there an underlining message of Archenemy that you would want to share?
Adam Mortimer: I think the message of the movie is in the movie. If you can describe it, I mean, I think it’s there. I try to make worlds that are really dangerous or bleak and have a lot of violence, but still portrayed a sense of empathy. So that’s the goal of the characters.
Can you share what’s the next project you’re working on?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yeah. I have a new script that I wrote with Brian DeLeeuw, who I wrote Daniel Isn’t Real with, and we have written another horror movie that’s a very dark horror with this kind of exciting crime element. It’s about witches and it’s about capitalism and we’re hoping to get that off the ground next year. I’ll be able to say a little bit more about it when we know what’s going on with that.
Just you discussing your next project that’s about witches and capitalism—I’m all in for that already.
Archenemy is currently streaming on VOD.
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