Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! (Marabunta) (1998) Review

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Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! (Marabunta) (1998): 6 out of 10:In “Legion of Fire: Killer Ants!” Dr. Jim Conrad (Eric Lutes) travels to the small town of Burly Pines, Alaska, for a fishing trip. While out with a friend, they come across a moose that has been stripped clean of meat. They assume hunters left it for scavengers, but soon, the hunters arrive and reveal they had shot the moose just two hours earlier and had been tracking it since.

Later, a shopkeeper is found in a similar condition in his home. The authorities suspect a predator, but Jim is uncertain. During the autopsy, Jim discovers something on the man’s body. (Why a tourist who is an entomologist is doing an autopsy in a murder investigation is not a question “Legion of Fire: Killer Ants!” chooses to address) Under the microscope, it turns out to be the jaws of a marabunta, a deadly South American ant known for swarming and killing everything in their path.

Jim questions Police Chief Jeff Croy (Mitch Pileggi) and his men and deduces that the ants must have arrived on a ship that crashed a few years prior. The ants had hibernated until recent seismic activity warmed the area, allowing them to thrive.

Jim teams up with Croy and schoolteacher Laura (Julia Campbell) to stop the ants. They head to the beach where the shipwreck had washed ashore, aiming to kill the queen. However, the ants attack Jim’s friend, who is piloting a helicopter. In the chaos, the helicopter crashes into a mountain.

Jim and Laura, surrounded by ants, fend them off with a flamethrower and a shotgun until they reach a canoe. They paddle downstream and go over a waterfall. They then find an old cabin with a tiny clown motorcycle and manage to start it just as the ants catch up, riding back to town.

They convince Police Chief Croy to evacuate the town. Croy enlists local Native American Gray Wolf (Don Shanks) to handle the evacuation and instructs his son Chad (Jeremy Foley) to go with them. Gray Wolf is tasked with blowing up the only road out-of-town once everyone is safe. Chad, being a Chad, disobeys his father and returns to help while Gray Wolf sets up the dynamite.

At the school, Jim and Laura create a mixture to kill the ants, but the ants attack. Chad gets trapped in a school bus while Jim and Laura are chased to the top floor. Croy arrives in his truck, and they escape using Jim’s bug spray.

The Good

The Good: Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! has some things going for it. The first is Mitch Pileggi (X-Files) as the sheriff. He is a joy to watch and is very good at this role. Kind of reminds me when you watch a B-movie with Christopher Meloni or Dave Bautista and they just raise the level of the silliness on the screen.

The other two leads are pretty solid as well. Eric Lutes (Caroline in the City) is attractive and charismatic as the world famous entomologist who just happens to be in this rural Alaska town on vacation during a killer ant attack. And Julia Campbell (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion) as the sexy (and only apparently) school teacher makes a solid love interest, though it is obvious she belongs with newly widowed Sheriff Mitch Pileggi and not this L.A. pretty boy scientist.

The first third to half of the movie is also decent with plenty of fodder for a nature gone wild film. (Honeymoon couple fall into giant ant mound while taking pictures, that kind of thing)

Even the kids in the film Jeremy Foley (Dante’s Peak) and Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl) are solid. So often in these kinds of films the child actors are the worst by a long shot, but Marabunta avoids this.

The Bad

The Bad: Okay, so not all the acting is shall we say top shelf. If there is a standout in the miss side of hit and amiss, it would be Bill Osborn (Brigham City) as Officer Dave Blount.

Is he supposed to be comic relief, and he is just not funny? Is he just really that incompetent? The script paints him as an emotionally unstable Barney Fife with the ability to make any situation a hundred times worse.

There is a scene where he somehow traps himself in a barn with the ants using a method that wouldn’t be out of place for Kenny from South Park. Whatever Bill was going for did not translate on the screen. (Not that the script is doing him any real favors.)

In reality, the script for Marabunta (Is that what I am going with now? Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! is a bit of a mouthful) is not doing anyone any real favors in the second half of the film.

The set pieces where the ants trap and kill the characters on screen get sillier and sillier as the movie goes on. Self imposed Rube Goldberg style traps are needed to explain why people just don’t drive away when they see an army of killer ants headed in thier direction. (Or at the very least why they just don’t grab a can of RAID)

By the end of the film we have native Americans blowing up dams with hand thrown dynamite and, well, perhaps Marabunta’s script is writing checks the filmmakers can’t cash.

The Ugly

The Ugly: Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! was made in 1998. And you would be excused with some of the CGI to think it was made in 1988. The CGI on the ants is all over the place. Sometimes it is obvious but decent (ants taking an old ladies pinky finger into the ant farm) and then we have the prized dairy cow scene where a group of five-year-olds drew what they believed were ants on a photo of what they believed to be a cow laying down.

Now bad special effects are not a surprise for a made for TV nature gone wild film. Nor are they necessarily a death knell. Night of the Lepus has hilariously bad special effects and honestly it is the reason for the season. (Marabunta also shares Night of the Lepus’ opening with the documentary film about the killer animal, though Marabunta lacks famous local news anchor Jerry Dunphy implying that we are all going to die soon from rabbits.)

The inability to be consistent seems to be the issue as the ants change size and color from scene to scene (and sometimes in the same scene, see that silly barn scene again). Unlike a similar movie such as 1977’s Kingdom of the Spiders, the ants never seem to be real or in the same scene as the actors.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: I am a sucker for nature gone wild movies as anyone who has read my site for a while is probably concluded. “Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! AKA Marabunta” gets a light recommendation because of some charismatic leads and some fun silliness. It moves quickly and has some unintentional laugh out loud moments. The movie also has a surprising amount of action with helicopters everywhere and whitewater rapids and a surprise spelunking. It may not be very good, but it is often entertaining.

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You know, it has been a while since I had a good helicopter film. Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! features two helicopters.
Here is the other copter before it goes to that great vertiport in the sky. How did this happen you may ask? Do you remember in Jaws 2 when the great white shark attacked and ate the helicopter? Like that, but with tiny ants.
As mentioned above, here is that special effects fail with the ants and the milking cow. Of course, though they produce them naturally, it is rare to see a dairy cow with giant horns. Someone in the special effects department was on thier first day… or perhaps their last day.
Here are the “same ants” in the same scene eating the farmer. The one with the longhorn dairy cow. One cannot help but note the ants have changed color in the minute between scenes.
And here are our CGI friends taking some finger food for the queen.
Even ravenous Marabunta won’t eat a mullet.
Is Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! a secret A-team spinoff?
Puppy! (The puppy is fine in the film. No worries.)
Legion of Fire: Killer Ants! does a nice job with the ant mound. They get a decent amount of milage out of people falling in and being eaten. Good work by the team.
What on Thursday?… I usually do a Costco run on Thursdays. A killer ant invasion would certainly mean a longer wait at the gas pumps. I should probably leave a bit early.
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