REIGN OF FIRE
Director: Rob Bowman
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler
MPAA Rating: (for intense action violence)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 7/12/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
You know what I miss? Irony. How can you have a good post-apocalyptic dragon movie without it? The answer, I’ve just learned, is you can’t. As evidence, I submit Reign of Fire, a horribly misconceived action movie set in a post-apocalyptic world where dragons have everyone scared that they’ll discover they’re smarter than the humans. At what studio conference did this thing get past? Was it right before lunch? Were the executives recovering from a party the night before? Once you get past how laughable the concept of a post-apocalyptic dragon movie is, you’ll start to realize how incredibly laughable it is to execute the idea in a dead serious way. No one’s tongue is anywhere near their cheek here. The closest we get is from Matthew McConaughey, whose tongue might possibly be lodged in his throat (more on this later). At some point his character says something to the effect that only one species will survive. Given the choice between the humans in this movie and the dragons, I’m rooting for the cockroaches.
In 2020 somewhere in England, a group of refugees hide out in an ancient castle and because of the warnings of their leader Quinn (Christian Bale) stay confined there. You see, less than two decades beforehand, Quinn witnessed as his mother’s mining company burrowed too far in the wrong place and unleashed a dragon. They quickly spread, wreaking havoc on the world in the way only swarms of dragons could, and by 2010, the nations of the world agreed to use nuclear weapons against them, doing even more damage and making hope of survival essentially nil. Now in the present, groups like Quinn’s are trying to outlast the dragons’ dominion. That is until a group of American military men led by Van Zan (McConaughey) comes to the castle seeking shelter and providing some important exposition: They’re dragon slayers. So from this setup, we finally get the dramatic question of the movie: Who will ultimately take control of the post-nuclear wasteland that is the Earth? From a logical point of view, the real question is: Who’d be stupid enough to want to?
We’re given a long introduction to the ways of the post-apocalyptic, dragon-filled world, which is, not surprisingly, full of hunger, fear, and reenactments of Star Wars to make the time go by. Eventually we see why everyone is so afraid. Despite the fact that their approach sounds like a stock car, these dragons are bad customers—spitting some kind of flammable liquid which when combined with the nitroglycerin in a second saliva gland makes a nasty flame-thrower (explaining, of course, the placement of bright red fire extinguishers throughout every room of the castle). And do they use it. At one point, we learn that the dragons are starving and have even resorted to cannibalism. Well, it’s no wonder. Of all the people killed in the movie, only about three are eaten; the rest are set ablaze. This doesn’t work when trying to keep a species thriving. Luckily for the humans, in the twenty or so years since the dragons were awakened, man has undergone a giant evolutionary leap and obtained the ability to outrun fireballs. As always, though, it’s survival of the fittest, and those without the ability simply stand still as the dragon attacks.
That’s when McConaughey steps in and, from his first entrance, starts chewing whatever scenery is left in this post-apocalyptic world run by dragons. With a gruff, raspy voice that could probably be corrected by simply spitting, his Van Zan encourages everyone to go out there and fight these beasts. This establishes the need for action sequences filled with enough testosterone to drown a small village, but the best one comes before Van Zan even enters the picture. As a family attempts to harvest some fruit from an off-limits farm, there’s a solid, suspenseful sequence when they’re attacked by a dragon. It’s betrayed in an incoherent finale with two cars trying to escape and ramming into each other. Then there’s the second sequence, which is the most ambitiously mounted but plagued with a horrible case of continuity problems. Three men jump of a helicopter in an attempt to catch a dragon attacking the castle. It all goes horribly wrong, and—count with me now—one is burnt, one falls to his death, one is eaten, and one lands safely.
All semi-serious analysis aside, what would possess someone to approach this material seriously? Think about it: This is a post-apocalyptic dragon movie; its absurdity is embedded in the very fiber of its being. Forgive my incessant use of all forms of the phrase "post-apocalyptic dragon movie" throughout this review, but can you really blame me for taking advantage of such an invaluably simple opportunity to reiterate just how ridiculous the idea is?
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.