Friday, January 1, 2016

Antboy Review

I keep seeing this superhero title appear on Netflix. It looks delightfully ridiculous, and I finally got around to seeing it. Not to be confused with Marvel's Ant-Man which hit theaters last year, Antboy (2013) is a low-budget, kid-friendly Danish superhero film which has a bizarre charm, a few worthwhile laughs, and tons of geeky comic book references. I can't honestly call it good, but it is enjoyable in a strange sort of way.
12-year-old Pelle Nøhrmann (Oscar Dietz) is bitten by a genetically altered ant and develops superpowers. Aided by comic book nerd Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf), Pelle creates a secret identity as superhero Antboy. When a super villain, The Flea, (Nicolas Bro) enters the scene, Antboy must step up to the challenge.
One of the charming things about Antboy is that it's very kid-centered. Many of the contemporary superhero movies revolve around adult-themes which are interesting, but not things kids could relate to so much. For example, Tony Stark in Iron Man is constantly having to deal with the problems of running a multi-million dollar tech industry and stopping government interference. Scott Lang in Ant-Man is basically trying to get a job and earn custody of his daughter before getting mixed up in superhero stuff. Clark Kent in Man of Steel is searching for a sense of identity and moral restraint. These are more grown-up issues which give these superheroes depth. Pelle is simply trying to fit in at school, make a friend, and maybe earn the affection of the prettiest girl in school. The kid's only 12, and has a good, healthy home life. Making friends, gaining popularity, and maybe getting a girl's attention is about as deep as most 12-year-old's issues get under such circumstances. But at the same time, that's the kind of thing kids are concerned with. It makes this kid-focused story relatable to the kid-targeted audience. There's an amusing scene early in the movie where Pelle enacts his superhero fantasies with stuffed animals, which is another kid-thing you'll never see the likes of Batman doing. Humorously, the comic book style "sound effects" that appear on screen as Pelle fights his teddy bear heralds back to Adam West's Batman.
This is a Danish film, and the version streaming on Netflix is dubbed in English. That's helpful since I doubt younger kids could read subtitles fast enough to keep up with the dialogue. However, even though I prefer subtitled movies in their original language, I imagine anyone would find the dubbing in Antboy annoying. Not so much because the dialogue is out of sync with lip movement, but because the English voice actors are pretty bland. They seem bored at times and their vocal inflections seemed a bit off, given what the actor was doing or saying; such as sounding more excited or subdued than what the actor was emoting. Annoying as the dubbing was at times, it still gave the movie a weird sort of charm.
Marvel's Ant-Man character has the ability to shrink down to ant size, has super strength, and can control/communicate with ants. For more on why that actually is cool, go read my Ant-Man review. Antboy, however, has powers that sound more along the lines of what one would expect from a superhero who has "ant powers." He can bite through just about anything, has an incredible sense of smell, can lift fifty times his own weight, and can crawl on walls. Since ants excrete corrosive fluids, Antboy has also gained the ability to urinate acid. He pees on a door to get through it at one point. Sadly, there will not be a scene wherein Antboy tactically pees on a foe; it's a PG film after all. But Antboy's powers are finite; since they are fueled by sugary foods. As such, Antboy's utility belt is stuffed full of soda and candy bars; another humorously kid-centric idea. There's a scene later in the movie where Antboy has to break into a vending machine and chug all the sweets therein to continue fighting his arch-nemesis.
Antboy is very safely in the realm of PG. The violence that occurs in the movie happens largely off-screen; no punches or anything else land on camera. Antboy himself deals out no physical violence. However since this is a foreign film it features a few things that are not something you'd ordinarily see in American films. The kid peeing acid for example. I mean, we see nothing other than a urine stream, but urinating is something that is implied in US films, not shown. Also, when we learn about The Flea and his history and powers it's a bit on the dark side. It's not unlike supervillain clichés we all know and love, but it's a bit dark for a PG-rated kid movie. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have any issues with showing Antboy to young kids. I'd be curious to see how they'd like it.
Antboy is a lot like a low-budget retread of Spider-Man on the surface, but is a bit off-kilter on some details, leaving one pleasantly baffled. The kid-friendly drama is overall pretty lame, but the execution is amusing, awkward, and charming in its own way. It's a considerable shlock-fest, but it's kind of a fun shlock-fest. The acting (and voice dubbing) might be substandard, but it looks like the crew probably had a fun time making Antboy and they achieved what they set out to do; make a wacky, kid-friendly superhero movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. I probably won't go out of my way to see it again, but I enjoyed it for what it was worth. It's not a bad way to spend a little over an hour if you have Netflix's streaming service.

Antboy seems to have done well for itself. There is a sequel that was made and a third installment is due out later this year. I'll be on the lookout for those.

Can you think of other good Independent superhero movies that aren't big-budget films based on well established comic books? Comment below and tell me about it!

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