Reign of Fire
Dragons – not nukes – and the end of the world.
Reign of Fire
Directed by Rob Bowman
Written by Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg
Starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco
Reign of Fire
is Mad Max by way of Dungeons & Dragons. Not Dungeons & Dragons
the disgraceful kid movie released two years ago, but the original role-playing
game. D&D: the ultimate symbol of smart-guy disenfranchisement. An evergreen
punch line that calls to mind a particular breed of teen nerdboy spending his
weekends rolling for damage. And Mad Max: second only to The Blood of
Heroes on the list of best post-apocalypse movies, and one of the few movies
with a sequel as good as its predecessor. Clearly, director Rob Bowman and his
scriptwriters respect both the fantasy and post-apoc genres.
The high concept is thus: What if dragons are real and were reawakened in the
modern world? The film opens when a construction team punches into an uncharted
cavern deep beneath the streets of London. Quinn, the scrappy son of the forewoman,
is on hand and asks to hop into the hole to investigate the dank, creepy HR Giger-inspired
chamber. Inside: an honest-to-god, fire-breathing dragon. Quinn’s mother dies
in this first dragon encounter, with a good portion of humanity soon to follow.
Twenty years later, dragons rule the earth, and Quinn (Christian Bale) leads a
small group of survivors who have turned an old castle into a stronghold. In a
nearby valley, they carefully cultivate food, with Quinn trying desperately to
convince his starving community not to harvest too soon. Do not feed from the
crop until the seeds are mature enough, else we will all starve to death next
season, he warns. They are ever watching the sky, and have no hope but to outlast
the dragons as they deplete their own food supply, i.e., humanity.
In some movies, you shouldn’t see the bad guys because it’s a letdown. Signs fell
apart completely when the mysterious aliens appeared early as lanky men in green
leotards. Or take the 1998 Godzilla remake. Almost every monster scene
was jittery, dark and rainy because it’s quicker and easier and therefore cheaper
to render the computer-generated effects with less detail; somehow, the new American
Godzilla was no more realistic than the original Japenese guy in a rubber suit.
The Reign of Fire dragons are not hidden in twilight; they are full-frame,
day and night. They are as beautifully rendered and as concrete as the best dinosaurs
in Jurassic Park.
They’re also bad-ass. These are not fat-bellied, bulky majestics, tossing riddles
and verse to frightened hobbits. They are not regal and magical. They are lean
and swift omnivores – fire-breathing locusts that feed on death. They killed the
dinosaurs by burning them and eating the ash. They soon rendered the planet barren
and starved themselves. The strongest went into hibernation.
Once awakened, the small brood reproduce like insects and spread across the globe,
consuming everything in their path. The fall of mankind is told by magazine clippings
from Quinn’s scrapbook. The first sightings were treated like UFOs, but soon cities
were in ruin. The Eiffel Tower and Big Ben are shown swarmed by dragons like bats
fluttering around a gothic cathedral. They are the ultimate plague.
Enter the foil: Matthew McConaughey as Van Zan, a brusque, arrogant, cigar-chomping
American rough rider, come to British soil to track down the granddaddy of all
dragons. He rolls up in a tank with a unit of commandoes and a talent for dragon
slaying. The pumped McConaughey – known first for Dazed and Confused and
more recently for being arrested naked in his house for playing the bongos a bit
too loudly – is pure America. He’s the would-be hero who shows up without being
invited, determined to rescue the locals and save the world. Van Zan and his team
are heading to London to slay the only male of the species, or so they think.
Reign of Fire is imaginative escapism. At times, even intelligent and imaginative
escapism. You’ll see a dragon and a helicopter in a dogfight. You’ll see a man
with an American Southern accent wielding a halberd. You’ll see dragons perched
on the crumbling spires of a destroyed London skyline. It’s a 100-minute, pure-hearted
action movie that, for once, doesn’t take a dragon-sized dump on its audience.
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