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A 12-year-old boy who’s tired of being “perfectly normal” gets to flex some superheroic muscle in Antboy, director Ask Hasselbalch’s brisk, lo-fi fantasy adventure. Well cast and handsomely shot, the Danish feature is a straight-ahead Superhero 101 tailored to kids.
With younger viewers the chief audience, it’s not surprising that distributors have eschewed subtitles in the push into international markets. But something crucial gets lost in the translation: The English dubbing is far from picture-perfect, with uneven voice performances and choppy synchronization dulling some of the material’s spark.
Moonfaced Oscar Dietz plays the very likable Pelle, whose invisibility is not a superpower but an everyday social curse. Teachers get his name wrong, and the girl of his dreams, class “it” girl Amanda (Cecilie Alstrup Tarp), doesn’t know he’s alive. “Have you ever longed to be someone else?” he asks in voiceover narration, and soon enough an alternative identity is thrust upon him.
In circumstances that echo Peter Parker’s transformation to Spider-Man, Pelle is bitten by an ant that escaped from a scientific experiment. The world goes blurry, he passes out, and when he wakes he has newfound strength and an assortment of talents that include the ability to scale buildings. Most strange is the corrosive, acid-like quality of a particular bodily fluid.
Fueling his powers with candy, he fashions an Antboy alter ego — and costume — with the assistance and expertise of classmate Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf), a Spidey fanboy who becomes Pelle’s guide to the superhero realm. In a pointedly droll aside, Pelle is still bullied in the halls while his schoolmates put on a play that pays tribute to Antboy.
Adults barely figure in the action, with the exception of a supervillain called the Flea (Nicolas Bro) who kidnaps Amanda, giving Antboy his first major mission. In the process of racing to save her, he bonds with her crankier, less conventional and more interesting sister (Amalie Kruse Jensen) — a nice touch, not overplayed. Working from a book series by Kenneth Bogh Andersen, screenwriter Anders Olholm makes his points with a light touch.
Like much of the movie, the forest showdown between Antboy and the Flea has an autumnal sheen, thanks to cinematographer Niels Reedtz Johansen, that bridges live action with fantasy. Director Hasselbalch amplifies the decidedly simple effects with SLAM, BOOM, KAPOW comic-book illustrations. He’ll follow up his feature debut with Antboy 2, which is scheduled for Christmas release in Denmark.
Production: Nimbus Film Prods.
Cast: Oscar Dietz, Nicolas Bro, Samuel Ting Graf, Amalie Kruse Jensen, Cecilie Alstrup Tarp
Director: Ask Hasselbalch
Screenwriter: Anders Olholm
Producers: Birgitte Hald, Eva Jakobsen, Lea Lobger
Executive producer: Bo Ehrhardt
Director of photography: Niels Reedtz Johansen
Production designers: Nikolaj Danielsen, M. Wan Sputnick
Costume designer: Louize Nissen
Editor: My Thordal
Music: Peter Peter
Rated PG-13; 77 minutes
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