[Interview] Adam Mortimer Talks 'Archenemy,' Superheroes, and Dream Match-Ups

What do you get when you rob a cosmic hero of everything that makes him great? Probably someone like Max Fist: a drugged-out, ill-tempered, alcoholic loner who everyone thinks is crazy. Adam Mortimer’s latest film, Archenemy, is an absolute joy both for action fans and for comic nerds who want a little more darkness in their superhero stories. The main character, Max Fist (played by Joe Manganiello), is one hell of a dangerous - albeit cracked - superhero.

Plot Details: A teen meets a mysterious man who claims he lost his superpowers after arriving from another dimension. Together, they take to the streets to wipe out a vicious crime boss and his local drug syndicate.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with director Adam Mortimer about the making of Archenemy, and what went into making such a wild, anarchistic film.

CryptTeaze: I just watched Archenemy, and I loved it! One question I had right off the bat is, what are your thoughts on the superhero movie trend that’s remained strong for over a decade?

Adam Mortimer: Well, you know, I looked at all of them as an opportunity to do what I did. I was thinking about what comic books did in the 80s, when we had stuff like Electra Assassin and Animal Man and Watchmen, all those things that said, ‘Okay, comic book readers! You know what we do here, you know what superheroes look like, but what if we go big and fucking tear it apart?!’ They presented it in such a completely different way. It was in 2015 I first thought of Archenemy. The moviegoing audience is in the same place now, we’ve been trained to understand what a superhero is and what the world’s supposed to look like, and in a way, I think those movies have been kind of what comics were doing in the 60s and 70s by building up their mythology and having this consistent tone. But now, what if we treat film audiences with as much sophistication as we treated comic book readers 50 years ago? It would create so much freedom, and I could do origin stories and psychics and vulnerabilities and punching, and I could do things that are super cosmic alongside stuff like drug use and violence and those things that we never quite see in the superhero movies that are available. It felt like an opportunity, and I think it continues to be an opportunity for what I hope will be the next wave of superhero movies. I think about Chloe Zhao’s movie The Eternals, and I can’t think of somebody further away from what a superhero movie is “supposed” to be than her and her films, you know? I mean, what’s that going to be like? I can’t wait to find out. And I thought Birds of Prey was totally insane and an anarchistic movie. So I think we’re finally in this cool space where we can think of superheroes and being not a genre, but a mythology around which we can have all kinds of different genres and all kinds of aesthetics.

CT: In Archenemy, I really liked how we weren’t quite sure whether or not the hero was 100% sane of simply delusional. How did you make that work in the script?

AM: I wasn’t trying to set it up so much as a snap “twist,” like “Ha-ha! What you thought was real wasn’t real!” or whatever. Instead, it was more like keeping it as a steady humming of “What exactly is reality?” From this character’s point of view, where he’s so drugged out and confused and has all these extreme emotional turns, to kind of play it that way, to play with this idea in an emotional reality way rather than in a plot twist kind of way, it opened it up for where the twist has more to do with personal betrayals and secret emotional truths between characters and what their relationships really were. Rather than answering questions about reality. Because I think that’s really important, especially since we’re currently asking all sorts of questions about reality in our Year of Our Lord 2020. I mean, my god, have you ever had so much questioning about what is reality?

CT: Glenn Howerton as the mob boss, The Manager, was an interesting choice. How did you choose such a well-known comedic actor for a dramatic role?

AM: I love the idea of casting comedic actors as dramatic and dark characters. Glenn really liked my previous movie, and he really wants to do things that are more dramatic. He happens to be funny because he’s blessed with being insanely funny, but he wants to do things that are more dramatic. I guess you can’t get much darker than the character of Denis Reynolds in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but he wants to go in a dramatic direction as an actor. The character of The Manger is written quite colorfully, he loves a good turn of a phrase, he acts kinda wild, and Glenn came in with ideas like, “What if I’m blond? What if I have a mustache?” and all this different colorful choices. I’ve been a fan of his since the first season of “Always Sunny,” so he was really like a superstar to me, and it’s a thrill when you get to work with guys like that.

CT: Speaking of actors who’ve played all sorts of roles over the span of their career, what was it like working with Joe Manganiello?

AM: It’s like he was created from three wishes for what I would need to create Max Fist. He’s the most handsome man on the planet, and you can really buy him as this Superman-type character. There’s a couple moments in the film where he’s clean-shaven, and you can really see him in that way. He’s so strong and physical, and he always wants to do his own stunts. He wants to jump, punch people, crack chairs over their heads, and just be this total all-around badass, and he’s also this really intelligent actor. He’s been in productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, and he just has this interest in playing the dramatic, tragic figure. But he also loves comic books! We can sit around and be like, “Oh, what about that part in Superman?” and he just have that sort of shared language. He was just the ultimate partner.

CT: Since you bring up a love of comics, one of my favorite things through the years have been the “Annual” issues of popular comics, where they typically have a “versus” title. So, I’d like to ask you about a few hypothetical “versus” fights, and you tell me who you think would win.

AM: Okay!

CT: Max Fist vs. Batman?

AM: I think on Earth, that definitely goes to Batman. But on Chromium, I think that Batman would have to work so hard to outsmart him and set traps, and I think he’d be able to get the better of Max mentally by tricking him, but he’d probably get his skull caved in first.

CT: Max Fist vs. Punisher?

AM: I think Max would just run into Punisher shooting him, and he’d just keep going until he tore him to pieces. It’s funny you bring that up! One of my inspirations for the character was “If Doctor Strange lost his superpowers, he’d become The Punisher,” and that’s how I thought of Max Fist’s journey from becoming a cosmic hero to this gritty street-tough guy.

CT: Max Fist vs. Hulk…on Chromium?

AM: Oh, shit! That would be epic! I think it would be a draw, and they’d just do ten million dollars of damage to the city along the way.

CT: That’s something they never talk about in superhero movies, by the way. I mean, who cleans up all that damage?

AM: Oh my God, tell me about it! It was quite the controversy with Man of Steel, with all the buildings that got destroyed. There was a lot of kerfuffle about that from fans. Those are the kinds of thoughts that I loved, though, and the sort of reality I was interested in with this movie. Like, what if they are real people? After years of working as a superhero and flying through black holes and defeating cosmic bad guys, it’s eventually going to mess them up so badly. You wind up with a jaded superhero sitting out behind a bar doing crystal meth, right?

CT: When writing the script, how did you balance action with humor?

AM: You know, I think that the genre of movies that I thought about the most was really crime movies, much more than superhero movies or science-fiction movies. Like that old Lee Marvin movie Point Blank, or Drive, or some of the earlier Tarantino movies. There’s something about the way we think of criminals in movies where because they’re so antisocial and anarchistic, they can be the most colorful. These movies are so gripping, and you’re always just waiting for someone to get shot in the face at any second, and it’s fun because thematically it’s about breaking the rules, so the movie itself gets to break the rules. I kept my heart on that kind of a genre in the writing process.

CT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AM: I just hope when people watch it they turn the volume of really loud and turn the lights out, because it is a very immersive experience. You can’t see it in a big theater, at least not where I live, so you have to find a way to create that movie theater experience at home.

CT: Get out the ol’ projector screen.

AM: Exactly!

Archenemy is available now on video on demand via Voltage Pictures (US) and Altitude Films (UK). RLJE Films brings the film to Blu-ray and DVD on February 2nd, 2021.