The Brits, led by the perpetually fearful but practical Quinn (Christian Bale), have adapted to the globally imposing threat of dragons, developing their own traditions and survivalist techniques in an underground system. Though routinely subject to dragon attacks or scorching—the dragons burn every living thing they encounter and eat the ash—their pragmatic approach to an insurmountable foe results in a comparatively decent survival rate.
Contrarily, the Americans, unwilling to adapt to anyone else's ethos and led by Denton (Matthew McConaughey), have developed an aggressive combat team with a strategy to kill dragons, seeking out the alpha male propagating the species, who, incidentally, killed Quinn's mother when he was a child.
This binary speaks for itself, and the inevitable conflict—the Americans align themselves with the Brits only to take over and endanger their lives when a difference in opinion arises—plays out exactly as expected. The distinction here is that while the gun-toting, optimistic/ignorant depiction of American cowboy willfulness proves problematic in a variety of ways, it does ultimately lead to freedom for the handful of Brits left standing.
Though broad, ignoring the intricacies of world politics beyond American domination, there is something at least interesting, albeit glib, about the presentation and implication of Reign of Fire and its rigid application of "evil." And since the fight is so clearly defined, regardless of the inherent ideological conflict brewing amongst the humans, much of the visceral battle component is able to drive the film is an aesthetically affable, if somewhat mediocre, manner.
It's just unfortunate that the global assertions weren't examined with slightly more intricacy and political consciousness. It would have made the double-edged sword of a message less laughable during the final moments when Quinn verbalizes a pat, hilariously stupid observation while walking into the sunset.
Reign of Fire screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Countdown to Armageddon screening series at 9pm on December 21st, 2012. (Buena Vista)