Archenemy is a new superhero movie produced by SpectreVision and distributed by RLJE films, featuring an original story from rising writer-director Adam Egypt Mortimer. It’s based on a story that Mortimer co-created with Lucas Passmore, and it stars Joe Manganiello as Max Fist, a mysterious drunk who claims he was once a superhero from another dimension.
We spoke with the rising director about the upcoming film, and are proud to share that interview with you. Please enjoy, and be sure to check out Archenemy in theaters, and available on VOD and Digital today December 11th!
Archenemy Director Adam Egypt Mortimer
The Illuminerdi: What inspired you to create the story of Archenemy?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Yes, the origin myth of this movie. I imagine, like you, I have always loved comic books and have an understanding of what has been done with superheroes in comics that is so vast, so many different genres, so many different styles and feelings. And I was feeling like because people have seen so many superhero movies, now we’re in just as sophisticated a place with moviegoers as we were with comic books even forty years ago.
When The Dark Knight came out, when Elektra: Assassin came out, those books were treating the superhero audience, the comic book audience so sophisticated, they were like “Are you ready for some crazy, experimental art?” And so I felt that now is the time that will happen with movies, and I have always been driven by comics and sort of the most extreme ends, the possibilities of them.
I wanted to do something like that and I had this idea of a guy in a tattered cape, drinking whiskey at a bar, and he talks about being from a different dimension, and he talks about being a superhero, but it doesn’t really seem true and nobody believes him. What would that be like? What would we do with that character, and how would it take us into a superhero world? So that was the origin myth, the crystal cave I went into and emerged with the idea.
Speaking of the tattered hero, did you always picture Joe Manganiello in the role of Max Fist?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: It’s not that I always pictured him, but once I met him and he was interested in doing it, it was like how could there have ever been anybody else? Joe is just genetically designed to be this character, it is so perfect for him. What’s wonderful about him is the combination of, he’s an awesome actor who has a degree in theater studies, and he also has the physique of a god. He’s the most handsome man on the planet, who looks like he could bench press a building, but he’s super into comics.
We sat down and started talking about Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore and where have comics come, and where have they gone. He was so into that idea and the way that we could bring his physicality and his sense of tragedy to this sophisticated idea of what a superhero could be. So he was just like my creative brother as we started putting it together.
Were there any specific comic books that inspired this movie?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: It’s a funny combination of on the one hand, Grant Morrison wrote a series called All Star Superman that I think is the greatest Superman comic ever. It really gets into the whole mythology of Superman and what he’s for, and it’s so big and colorful and cosmic and very science fiction. Then on the other hand, Daniel Clowse who did Ghost World and things like that. He has a comic called The Death-Ray that’s about a kid who finds out that his father was like a supervillain and had a death-ray. It’s the most gritty, awkward, kid stumbling around kind of comic book and I felt like, these are two such extreme versions of what the super universe is, and I want to take both of these endpoints and play with both of those feelings at once.
The film features both animated and live action scenes. Why did you choose to combine both of those styles for Archenemy?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: The parts that are animated have to feel like you don’t know if they’re real, they have to feel like “Are they dreams or or nightmares or memories or hopes or lies? What the hell is this?” I wanted to find the most expressive way to do those scenes and so the idea of doing it animated, in a style that’s kind of like has sort of a looseness and an expressiveness, a non-literalness, sometimes very primitive, sometimes very specific, it really moves around.
Once when I was talking to the artist, I said that I would be happy with a squiggly line to represent this stuff, more than I would want it to be a really detailed drawing that doesn’t move or have any life. The important thing about it is that it feels slippery. And so it’s about as far away as you can get from the rest of the movie which is live-action. In the film specifically, it was finding ways to have visual crossovers, using certain colors. There’s certain parts of the film where the animation comes in in a way that I describe as being like Roger Rabbit, like what Roger Rabbit did with these transitions, where some drawing grows up behind him and then you go into that world and so there’s a bit of a melding between those two worlds but they’re also super different.
You mention the colors used in the film. You see a lot of blue and purple hues, particularly in the animated sequences. What made you decide on that particular color palette?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I want a movie to be immersive, to pull you into it, and it’s best if it feels like you’re having an out of body experience, an astral projection. I think that those colors are very cosmic, they feel unnatural, but you can also connect them to feelings that we’re familiar with. They have a certain composition, and we assign them to all kinds of things, we assign them to genders, powers and psychological states.
I wanted to see if we could take those ideas, flip them around and make it confusing. So it’s all about communicating a certain kind of story simply through the colors, and then you crack well there’s these colors in animation, how are they showing up in the real world? And Hamster starts wearing colors that reflect the colors of the animation, and just playing with the feeling that colors can give us sort of a non linguistic window into the film.
Not only do you have a lot of love for comics, but you have some experience working with that medium, as you wrote the graphic novel Ballistic. Would you be interested in exploring Chromium or perhaps Max Fist’s earlier years in a comic book medium?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Oh yes, absolutely. I have an outline for a sequel that would pick up where the movie ends and then fill in stuff from the past, and also move forward. I think that I like the idea of creating something that’s like a little pinprick in this vast mythology. I would one hundred percent want to do what you’re describing if the world would let me, and maybe they will.
Fingers crossed. Now, on the film side of things, if you were to direct a sequel to Archenemy what might that look like?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Interestingly, I’ve set up kind of a duo now with Daniel Isn’t Real and this movie, as they have similar themes and they have similar cosmic imagery. I feel like there’s a world where I could do a third movie that would combine those two universes. I think that they actually take place in a single multiverse and it would make sense to me thematically and storywise to put all of those characters together.
Would you be interested in directing a superhero movie for Marvel or DC or a different comic book adaptation in the future?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Of course. I really do feel like those kinds of stories are not going anywhere, but the opportunity to play around them and develop what we can do with them aesthetically are only going to grow. I would love to reach deep into the DC universe and find some insane Jack Kirby character. There are so many great characters that we still haven’t seen yet.
A dream of mine, and it’s always been a big influence are the Nick Fury comics that Jim Starenko did in the sixties. They don’t look anything like what we’ve seen, anything like what Marvel movies have done. There’s an incredibly psychedelic, pop art, crazy kind of energy, there is so much potential.
I have vast bookshelves full of comic books and I could pick up any one of them, and go “I want to make this, I want to make the Animal Man movie, I want to make Sweet Eternity, I want to make The Forever People”. It just goes on and on, they’re all awesome. I think that filmmakers have the freedom to merge these things in interesting ways, we have plenty of cool movies to make.
I’ve been dreaming of an Animal Man movie for quite some time now, I would love to see you at the helm of that. For my last question, I have to ask, did you have a favorite scene from the movie?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: I have quite a few, but I think the scene with Paul Scheer was such a joy to film because he and Zolee together in that scene were so great. Paul played such an insane character and he does so much to bring that to life and make it into a really surprising energetic scene. I think that’s something that I might be particularly proud of.
Wait, I have a second one. The slow motion fight scene, where Max fights the character that we called Longman. It’s this long, kind of wide shot, slow motion scene, where the music is all insane and kind of transcendent. I thought that was a really interesting exploration of doing something that’s beautiful and brutal. It was incredible with stunt people there, being able to film everything with that extreme, fluid, slow motion. That felt really good as a filmmaker to make.
Archenemy is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, and stars Skylan Brooks as Hamster, Joe Manganiello as Max Fist, and Zolee Griggs as Indigo. The film is in theaters, and available on VOD and Digital today December 11th! Let us know your thoughts on the film and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s interview in the comments below or on our social media!