Published Dec 01, 2002Much like the planet Mars, or the videogame adaptation genre, dragons have never had it easy in cinema, what with either being extinct, going extinct, looking like crap or being voiced by Sean Connery. With Dragonslayer being arguably the beast's best showing, depending on one's opinion of Sean Connery and Dragonheart, and the horrendous Dungeons & Dragons setting back the cause a good decade, Reign of Fire has set out to raise the mythical creature to the cinematic prominence it should rightfully be accorded.
And while Reign of Fire may be the best dragon movie yet, it's still more Deep Blue Sea than Jaws. In the realm of Reign of Fire, dragons are real creatures of flesh and blood, not magic, they live to destroy everything and feed on the ruins (ash), they procreate at an alarming rate, they really do breathe fire and in present day England, have accidentally been awakened and are pretty unhappy about it. Fast forward 20 years and the dragons have won, humanity has lost, the world is their barbeque and ragtag groups of survivors hold out in the face of certain genocide. Quinn (Christian Bale) is the leader of one of the last pockets of humanity, hiding out in an abandoned castle trying to outlast the dragons, which, as the theory goes, will go back into hibernation after the all-they-can-eat buffet. All seems to be going well for Quinn and his survivors, or as well as things can go in a world terrorised by dragons, starvation and the downfall of society in general, until a group of American militia led by Denton Van Zan (Stone Cold Matthew McConaughey) shows up with a plan to save the world, but will need Quinn's help to do it.
Touted as more of a triumph of human will than CGI eye-candy (although isn't any movie where humans emerge victorious a triumph of human will?), Reign of Fire is boosted by strong acting from both Bale, entirely unrecognisable from his American Psycho role, and McConaughey, whose intensity is palpable throughout the film, but aside from a few exciting scenes (the mid-air attempted capture of a dragon), it is light on dragons. However, the dragons, for the most part, do look awesome when they appear, as do the landscapes and burned-out cities, which are equal parts medieval and post-apocalyptic. Still, while the effects are strong and the acting solid, what drags down Reign of Fire is its simplistic story and pockmarked plot, which in the end renders it mediocre. And isn't it amazing that characters that probably wouldn't be able to manage a Burger King always end up coming up with theories that all the world's scientists failed to see and thus ultimately save humanity? It gives me hope that one day maybe I'll save the world too; after all, I never could work the deep fryer.