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Cinedigm // Unrated // July 22, 2014
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 19, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

"... 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.

The DVD:

Video and Aduio:

Antboy really is a terrific-looking film from start to finish, and Cinedigm's brawny DVD elevates the diligent production design -- especially in the characters' costumes -- and subtly appealing shooting locations in its 1.85:1-framed, 16x9 transfer. Fall leaves, the soft blue of Wilhelm's walls, and the bright greens and vivid teal lights in The Flea's lair are full yet balanced against the rest of the image, while skin tones and black levels are entirely natural and respective of details. Lots of fine details can be spotted in the grooves of Antboy's helmet and The Flea's eyeg-gaurd, within brick and wood grains in interior shots, and the legs and shells of several different insects (a great shot of a millipede, in particular). There are some instances of digital shimmering, however, in the bars of Pelle's costume and in the branches of trees, which can becom distracting. Other than that, however, Antboy's colorful and stylish high-detail clarity look fantastic.

Unfortunately, Antboy suffers from some pretty lackluster dubbing over the Danish language track, presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital treatment (and a 2-channel Stereo track) that's clear, serviceable, and altogether frustrating because of it. Atmospheric details around parking lots and in The Flea's greenhouse lair travel to the rear channels for a nice effect, while the villain's heavy stomping and the creaking of a knee brace deliver punchy clarity and bass moments. A few large "explosions" later in the film tests the aggressiveness of the track, too, which are given fine fidelity and convincing weight. Despite being perfectly discernible, the dialogue detracts from the experience, though, to a point where much of the performances ring more false than they probably should because of it. The digital quality is stable, though, which is the most important thing. No subtitles are available with the two English language tracks.

Special Features:

None, not even a trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Antboy might be worth checking out if the intensity of Marvel's comic-book films prove too much for certain younger audience members, as it follows the blueprint of an origin hero story to a fault without much in the way of darker themes or action. Despite appealing visuals and a decent villain, everyone else won't find too much to embrace in Pelle's incredibly familiar and surface-level adventure into superheroism. Rent It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site






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