Overly Kid-Friendly 'Antboy' Does Whatever a Spider-Man Can

Directed by: Ask Hasselbalch Runtime: 77 minutes
Grade: C-

"... only instead of a high-schooler getting stung by a spider, it's a grade school kid getting stung by an ant!" The hope, of course, is that there'd be a little more to Antboy, Denmark's family-friendly superhero movie, than such a direct carbon-copy. From the second a bioengineered insect bites into a unpopular kid, however, director Ask Hasselbalch reveals that, no, there's not going to be a lot that distinguishes this pint-sized hero from its blatant inspirations. Fundamentally, this adaptation of Kenneth Bogh Anderson's comic series plays out like the imagination of a kid who's recently seen the latest Spider-Man movie and applied what becoming a superhero would be like in the narrow parameters of his everyday life, only without most of the action demanding his powers. Children too young for the aggressiveness and themes of modern comic-book movies might get a charge out of Antboy's call to arms, but it lacks the energy and inventiveness to draw in anyone else.

Newcomer Oscar Dietz plays Pelle, a kid who's constantly overlooked at his school, neither popular nor smart enough to draw the attention of being the class brainiac. In a break from his routine of sulking between classes and pining after the girl of his dreams, he decides to step up one day and help a the school's bookworm, comic-lover Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf), from getting roughed up by a pair of bullies. While hiding from them after his own escape, Pelle gets stung by an ant that alters his genetics. The day after, he's feeling just a wee bit different: following a night of mindlessly gorging on sugar, he discovers that he's got super strength and an adhesive touch, similar to the traits of, you guessed it, an ant. With Wilhelm's intelligence and awareness of superheroes helping him along, Pelle decides to put his powers to use as Antboy, seeking out crimes to right in their small town. There's a villain for every hero out there, though, and The Flea (Nicolas Bro) becomes Antboy's target and nemesis after he abducts a student from his class.

From discovering Pelle's powers and developing a costume to his escalation as the town's publicized hero, director Hasselbalch chalks off almost every cliche you can think of about the comic-book origin movie, only without giving the kid much crime-fighting motivation beyond, well, heroism being popular. Choosing to put a normal grade-school boy in the role of a small town's half-masked vigilante, especially one with Oscar Dietz' easily-identifiable characteristics, draws all sorts of questions that are easier to shrug off with adults, namely how his parents have no idea what's going on and how nobody's identified him yet. Alas, that's not the kind of scrutiny Antboy's built to endure, a film which also justifies consuming mass quantities of candy for a necessary boost in strength -- like Popeye downing a can of spinach -- and gives our hero acidic urine as a (clever) superpower. It's a vicarious fantasy specifically for kids wanting to be a hybrid of Spider-Man and Batman, without pathos really getting in the way.

Antboy's polished enough on the surface, though, that it makes me not want to beat up on it too badly. A resourceful and vibrant visual style allows Pelle's growth into the titular hero to feel grander in scope than it really ends up being, while the script shapes a gray-area, sympathetic antagonist out of The Flea instead of a mustache-twirling villain. Thing is, this craftsmanship ultimately drives a simplified comic-book storyline that lacks either dramatic depth or the high-stakes of blockbuster action, elements that typically justify the overlooking of hiccups in logic. Without them, the story's only left with its derivative nature while progressing towards its finale, predictably doing all the same things as its influences -- discovering the villain's motives, giving up on being a superhero, losing and gaining powers -- without the excitement or purpose to back it up. Instead of exploring other thematic ideas that could bolster Antboy's family-oriented intentions, director Ask Hasselbalch seems content in delivering little more than a short, stripped-down emulation of everything else that relishes great power without emphasizing great responsibility.

For the full DVD review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]


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