I saw “Ant-Man” over the weekend, and given the fact that advance buzz (so to speak) was iffy, I was pleasantly surprised: It was the funniest Marvel movie yet, and it fully embraces its ludicrous premise (something about being able to make people shrink by “changing the distance between atoms,” a concept that only sounds even mildly reasonable because it’s uttered by Michael Douglas).
But one of my favorite parts of the movie is its cast of supporting characters — no, not Michael Peña, although he is awesome. I’m talking about the ants, whom Ant-Man controls by harnessing the something in their whatsis … actually I don’t think they ever really explain how it works, but who cares? Unlike most movie bugs they’re a huge help to our hero, and one of them — SPOILER ALERT! — even gets a name (Antony) and a heroic demise.
It also made me think of certain other, previous bug movies, some of which are definitely lesser than “Ant-Man,” but which all hold a space in the pantheon of creepy crawlies come to life on the big screen. Here’s a rundown:
1) Kingdom of the Spiders (1977): This William Shatner vehicle is appropriately titled, because it is the king of terrible bug movies. These were tough times for Shatner — post-Star Trek but before the movie series got fired up — which would explain why he agreed to star in a film where he attempts to save a town from killer tarantulas by, I don’t know, master-thespianing them to death.
Much like Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” the film ends on a down note, with it looking like the creatures have the upper hand. Unlike Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” though, “Kingdom of the Spiders” sucked. Sorry Bill.
But don’t take my word for it — here’s the entire movie:
2) Eight Legged Freaks (2002): Now this is how you make a bug movie, particularly a giant bug movie — by acknowledging that it’s by its very nature ridiculous and just going with it. Also by having David Arquette and Doug E. Doug (and Scarlett Johansson!) fight giant irradiated spiders in a shopping mall.
It’s no “Tremors,” but as giant deadly bug movies go, you could do a lot worse. (Although as movies, period, go, I guess it’s pretty terrible.)
3) Mimic (1997): Remember when I said you could do a lot worse as giant deadly bug movies go? This would probably be a prime example of that, given its premise that a genetically engineered insect species, released to stop a deadly bug plague, evolves (in about 20 minutes) into a fleet of giant cockroaches that can imitate (“mimic”) humans, specifically gooey humans in dark overcoats that make really loud clicking noises.
Still, it has a funky visual sense courtesy of burgeoning director Guillermo Del Toro, and Charles S. Dutton fills the doomed security-guard-with-a-heart-of-gold role with aplomb. Worth noting: Mira Sorvino won an Oscar for “Mighty Aphrodite,” and then she starred in this, and then she was kidnapped by giant cockroaches, never to be heard from again. Probably.
4) Them! (1954): OK, so the people and the ants never seem to exist on quite the same plane of reality — neither did the people and every single other thing in “The Phantom Menace,” and that was 45 years later.
Besides, if you can can get past that you can’t not appreciate the thrills and chills of this irradiated monster classic — who can forget when the little girl screams out “Them! Them!,” creeping out the entire audience and also conveniently naming the movie. Unfortunately, unlikely the ants in “Ant-Man,” these ants are less interested in helping out and more interested in eating giant tanker trucks full of sugar, and also people.
5) Arachnophobia (1990): This “thrill-omedy” — that’s actually what it was marketed as — is as schizophrenic as that description would indicate. Parts of it are genuinely scary, and other parts are completely goofy –notably John Goodman’s over-the-top exterminator, who in retrospect feels like he just walked in from “The Big Lebowski.” (And good for him!)
But it’s fun, the spiders are suitably creepy (unlike those noisy ants from “Them!,” they’re small enough to sneak up on you), and Jeff Daniels takes on the mama arachnid with a nail gun, which is not something you see every day.
Honorable Mention: A Bug’s Life (1998). They’re not actually bugs like in the other movies — they’re animated Pixar bugs, back when Pixar movies weren’t guaranteed to make you sob uncontrollably while you lament you own impending mortality. Any movie with Denis Leary as a male ladybug with a masculinity complex deserves at least a nod.
Which bug flicks did I forget? Let me know in the comments.
Read more Pete at Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog.