Reign of Fire Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
July 11th, 2002

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After a summer full of heady films that made us think (thank you, Jason Bourne, Michael Sullivan and John Anderton), we finally get the first real popcorn movie of the season in Reign of Fire, a moderately entertaining if not downright odd blend of Mad Max, Dragonslayer and Excalibur. It's good enough to make viewers a lot less leery of the whole Post-Apocalyptic Future genre after The Postman, but in the grand scheme of things, there isn't much here that will have you talking on the way out of the theatre.

Fire opens in present-day London, where the young son of a railway tunnel construction manager finds a hare-brained, fahr-breathin' eedjit (read: dragon) deep below the surface of the city. The story slowly flashes forward to 2020, during which we're treated to a very spiffy voice-over explaining that the dormant dragons returned to Earth's surface and pretty much took shit over. They destroyed everything with their fire breath (because they eat the ash), and drove the few remaining humans into hiding.
One of the last enclaves of life is in Northumberland, England, which is where we meet protagonist Quinn Abercromby (Christian Bale, Captain Corelli's Mandolin), who just happens to be the kid from the prologue. Quinn is in charge of a group containing a handful of adults and a lot of children who appear to be the same age (repopulating the Earth sounds so sexy!), and his biggest problem is riding a horse out to the few crops of food they're able to grow under the constant threat of dragon attack. At least that's his biggest problem until the Americans show up.

Those irritating Yanks arrive with tanks, helicopters, a superior attitude and a leader named Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey, 13 Conversations About One Thing), who has not only killed a dragon or two, but has a zany plan for ridding the planet of the suckers (and it has nothing to do with dragons being so stupid, like our friend Sam assumed). What ensues is not only a battle against the dragons, but a power struggle between Quinn and Denton that threatens the entire operation. Then there's the Big Battle Scene at the end, and everyone goes home happy...or wondering where the Americans found the fuel to operate their macho machinery.

As fun as it is to mock, there are plenty of things to admire about Fire, starting with the dusty, bluish photography from Adrian Biddle (The Mummy Returns), the terrific voice-over at the beginning (and accompanying newspapers recounting the destruction of various cities), and, to a much lesser extent, the Willard-Kilgore relationship between Quinn and Denton. There are a couple of somewhat memorable scenes, including a very funny spoof of the finale of The Empire Strikes Back, and another where the Americans make Band of Brothers' Easy Company look like a bunch of pansies. Bale has never done anything for me acting-wise, but McConaughey is fun to watch, especially since his recent graduation from the Steve Forbes School of Acting, because the bastard didn't blink once during the entire film. Still, one can't help wondering how cool Vin Diesel would have been in that role (and how fucked up is that?).

1:46 - PG-13 for intense action violence

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