Adam Egypt Mortimer's latest film, Archenemy, is born out of his love for comic books. What's surprising is that he didn't just want to create any superhero film like your typical Batman or Superman origin story. The writer and director drew from an unexpected inspiration, director Darren Aronofsky. I had a chance to speak to Mortimer about how Archenemy came together, how star Joe Manganiello was perfect for his protagonist Max Fist, and what he looked for in casting the film. The story centers on Max as an interdimensional superhero who crossed into our reality but lost his powers and became a drunken vagrant. Along the way, he finds Hamster (Skylan Brooks), who takes to Max and the stories he tells, the enemies he's faced, and saving his world many times. "I never stopped reading comic books from the time I was little until now," Mortimer said. "I love comics, and I love what they do with superheroes. I think since at least the early 1980s, if not before, comic books have been able to talk to the audience in a really sophisticated way."
Mortimer detailed the nuance and evolution the genre's been through generations. "Superheroes and comics can be all these different kinds of genres, and they can be all these different kinds of aesthetics and feel like all these different kinds of stories," he said. "I think about when I first conceived Archenemy trying to write it as far back as 2015. I think about when audiences see movies that have seen enough about superheroes that we can examine them in a really sophisticated way. We can take for granted what a superhero is, so I'm like, 'how can we play with the genre a bit?' Can I make it a crime movie or psychedelic story? I wanted to create all these different kinds of feelings with different kinds of characters and not have to go back to square one with the mythology."
One film that particularly inspired Mortimer was Aronofsky's 2008-critically-acclaimed film The Wrestler, which starred Mickey Rourke. "How it took a broken 'Hulk Hogan' and started the story there at the end of his life," he said. "I wanted to do that with Superman. I wanted a broken ex-Superman who's an alcoholic. Maybe he's lying. It's a tragic story of his lust and youth. We start the story there and see where it goes." Mortimer thought Manganiello was perfect for Max Fist due to his dedication to his craft and his own imagination driven by his love of Dungeons and Dragons. "Joe was perfect for this because he's like a real-life Superman," he said. "He's got the look, and he's got the feel and the love for superheroes. When I first met him, it turned out that he's also obsessed with comic books and he's almost famous for playing D&D. You know he's very into this made-up world. Through comic books, we were able to easily talk about the intricacies of the Superman myth and what does it mean to be Kal-El. How is Max Fist going to relate to the yellow sun earth? Beyond all his physical perfections, he's a sensitive and charming, well-trained actor. He's able to take this 'I am Superman, but I am broken' and bring that to life in a way that I think was very real and was kind of like why he wanted to do this movie was a perfect combination of punching people and he loved acting."
When it comes to his remaining cast, Mortimer credits Glenn Howerton and Paul Scheer with their comedic backgrounds for giving such intense performances. "With all the actors, I was looking for energy in them," he said. "Like, for example, you can watch them smoking a cigarette, and you would still feel excited by it. The thing I'm always thinking about is how to do a movie where the world can always feel dangerous, hopeless, or bleak. The characters within it are very vibrant. So you get a guy like Glenn Howerton, who is so funny, and his character in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia…if that show wasn't a comedy, he would be playing like Patrick Bateman (in American Psycho) playing the most psychotic person. So he has this capability of being so frightening, narcissistic, and so insane. To put that into a little more of a villain character is a believable creepy person, but still has all of his energy that tends to make us laugh. Paul Scheer is a completely insane and mental person in this movie. You know that someone who's that funny and can do this improv."
As far as Max and Hamster's relationship, Mortimer compared their strong bond together to some existing tropes in storytelling. "I was thinking Max is this big crazy dog," he said. "In some ways, it's like I can see Hamster walking through the desert in a post-apocalyptic setting. He's Mad Max, and Max himself is a wild dog. Guess you can also compare it to a lone wolf type situation where you have the samurai and the younger kid. They have that kind of vibe. I think the Batman and Robin vibe is also accurate, and there's this one scene where Max gives Hamster his jacket, similar to when Dick gets his own suit, and there's an 'R' there. It's an interesting question of who's inspiring the other when it comes to the pair."
Archenemy also stars Zolee Griggs, Mac Brandt, Kieran Gallagher, Joseph D. Reitman, and Amy Seimetz. The RLJE film is in theatres, on-demand, digital.