Film Review: Antboy

Hey there, there goes a mostly bland but very kid-friendly <i>Spider-Man</i> clone.

Believe it or not, it's been 12 years since Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man adventure took the comic-book movie world by storm. That passage of time is actually a boon for Antboy, a pint-sized superhero outing from Denmark that boldly and baldly apes Raimi's 2002 blockbuster, which hit theatres when this film's 10-and-under target demographic, not to mention its elementary school-age leading man, weren't even born. So while their parents will immediately recognize the film (which has been dubbed into English, rather than subtitled, for its domestic release) as an extended homage—or, if you prefer, rip-off—the kids will be able to view it with fresher eyes…provided their folks haven't ignored the PG-13 rating affixed to Spider-Man, or its 2012 reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, and already shown them the real McCoy.

To be fair, there are a few alterations between Antboy (which is based on a popular Danish comic-book series that has yet to make it to these shores) and Spider-Man, starting most obviously with the species of insect being personified in superhero form. Where Peter Parker boasts a variety of handy arachnid abilities (minus the need to slurp blood, fortunately), young Pelle Nøhrmann (Oscar Dietz) has been gifted with several common formic-attributes after being chomped on by a genetically tweaked ant: among them, increased strength, superb climbing skills, acid-laced urine (which isn't exactly scientifically accurate, but what's a contemporary kids’ movie without some bathroom humor?) and an insatiable appetite for sugar. Also, while Pete is well into his high-school career when his origin story begins, Pelle—who resides with his still-living parents rather than his aunt and uncle—has several years before he has to start seriously worrying about college, zits and the opposite sex. (Though he's getting a head start on the latter obsession, devoting entirely too many hours to staring transfixedly at the prettiest girl in his grade, who is entirely oblivious to his presence.)

But even with these minor tweaks, the driving arc of the story remains the same: A dorky outcast accidentally acquires great power and then has to master the great responsibility that comes with it. That great responsibility initially takes the form of stopping random street crime (and getting famous in the process), before a snarling supervillain appears on the scene to really put the hero through his paces. In this case, said supervillain is the Flea, a disgruntled scientist who parlays his anger at an ex-employer into a gimmicky bad-guy routine, complete with an ugly costume, venomous taunts and a kidnapping plot that Antboy has to foil. At least Tobey Maguire's webhead was technically an adult when he tangled with Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, though; Antboy pits its pre-adolescent hero against a fully grown-up man, who picks the kid's school as the perfect place to stage their climactic battle. And even though it's all meant in good comic-book fun, the sight of an adult—who isn't wielding a gun, but definitely has some weapons up his sleeve—breaking into an elementary school with the intention of capturing and/or killing a kid can't help but register as creepy.

It almost goes without saying that Antboy was made for far less money than Spider-Man (though it earned enough cash in its native land to get a sequel greenlit), which explains why its visual aesthetic often bears a closer resemblance to Kick-Ass, where the low-rent surroundings and spandex-clad characters looked purposefully ridiculous. But director Ask Hasselbalch most certainly isn't going for gonzo satire here; rather, Antboy is a wholly earnest imitator, not just of Raimi's marvelous Marvel movie, but also of the vintage Silver Age Marvel Comics spirit in general. (In fact, the company's own ant hero, Ant-Man—star of an Edgar Wright-directed adventure, due out next year—is namechecked at one point.) Those comics carry a childlike enthusiasm for superheroic derring-do that Hasselbalch sometimes charmingly, more often clumsily, strives to replicate. Frankly, handing kids a stack of Stan Lee-penned Marvel titles would be a more productive use of their time than the 76 minutes it takes to watch Antman. Then again, those comics don't feature any heroes who can boast acid-laced pee as one of their powers.

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