I saw â€œAnt-Manâ€ 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 â€œchanging the distance between atoms,â€ a concept that only sounds even mildly reasonable because itâ€™s uttered by Michael Douglas).
But one of my favorite parts of the movie is its cast of supporting characters — no, not Michael PeÃ±a, although he is awesome. I’m talking about the ants, whom Ant-Man controls by harnessing the something in their whatsis â€¦ actually I donâ€™t think they ever really explain how it works, but who cares? Unlike most movie bugs theyâ€™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 â€œAnt-Man,â€ but which all hold a space in the pantheon of creepy crawlies come to life on the big screen. Hereâ€™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 donâ€™t know, master-thespianing them to death.
Much like Hitchcockâ€™s â€œThe Birds,â€ the film ends on a down note, with it looking like the creatures have the upper hand. Unlike Hitchcockâ€™s â€œThe Birds,â€ though, â€œKingdom of the Spidersâ€ sucked. Sorry Bill.
But donâ€™t take my word for it — hereâ€™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 itâ€™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.
Itâ€™s no â€œTremors,â€ but as giant deadly bug movies go, you could do a lot worse. (Although as movies, period, go, I guess itâ€™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 (â€œmimicâ€) 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 â€œMighty Aphrodite,â€ 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 â€œThe Phantom Menace,â€ and that was 45 years later.
Besides, if you can can get past that you canâ€™t not appreciate the thrills and chills of this irradiated monster classic — who can forget when the little girl screams out â€œThem! Them!,â€ creeping out the entire audience and also conveniently naming the movie. Unfortunately, unlikely the ants in â€œAnt-Man,â€ 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 â€œthrill-omedyâ€ — thatâ€™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 Goodmanâ€™s over-the-top exterminator, who in retrospect feels like he just walked in from â€œThe Big Lebowski.” (And good for him!)
But itâ€™s fun, the spiders are suitably creepy (unlike those noisy ants from â€œThem!,â€ theyâ€™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 Bugâ€™s Life (1998). Theyâ€™re not actually bugs like in the other movies — theyâ€™re animated Pixar bugs, back when Pixar movies werenâ€™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.