© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
Rob Bowman (I)
Director Rob Bowman, having cut his genre teeth helming numerous episodes of the hugely popular X-Files TV series and the feature film based on that program, now offers an original science-fantasy adventure-thriller with no pretensions other than to deliver old-fashioned monster-movie excitement featuring the most realistic-looking dragons state-of-the-art CGI SPFX can contrive.
He succeeds and the beasts are......well, beastly in the best sense of the word! Reign of Fire opens with a brief prologue set in contemporary London where a young boy Quinn Abercromby (Ben Thornton), visiting the construction site supervised by his Mom, Karen (Alice Krige), happens to be there when the deep underground excavations awaken a long-slumbering, huge, fire-breathing dragon, the first of a plague that scourges the world, (effectively shown in a newsreel montage). Shift to the year 2020 when most of civilization lies in scorched ruins, reduced to ashes by countless flying reptiles. Enclaves of the few surviving humans struggle for survival while hoping to avoid the dragons who, in their ravenous hunger, have begun to feed on one another. Grown up Quinn (Christian Bale), leader of the Northumberton settlement holed up in a castle fortified with remnants of 21st century technology, tries to keep the families in his charge safe and to protect their crops from dragon fire, with the help of his best friend Creedy (Gerard Butler). Internal dissension caused by one of the fathers, Eddie (David Kennedy), trying to steal away with his family to seek for imagined more secure refuge, precipitates the opposite when the activity provokes a fearsome aerial reptilian attack.
Afterward, the badly shaken Quinn then must deal with the arrival of a combative American, Van Zan (Matthew McConnaughey), am embodiment of macho with shaven head, rough beard, robust physique, tattoos and the constant presence of a cigar butt in his mouth. The newcomer brings with him a tough-gal helicopter pilot Alex (Izabella Scorupco) and a group of gung-ho Yank military men who have impressive hardware (including the lady's chopper) with which to hunt dragons. They have worked out the enemy's biology and have come all the way to England in search of the crucial target---the lone male dragon, the fiercest of them all---reasoning that if they kill the progenitor, the females, having no way to fertilize their eggs, will die out within a generation. This concept rather strains the credulity unfortunately. Once Quinn and Van Zan work out their rivalry for command authority (not without a bit of fisticuffs), they team up to confront the nemesis in his lair in the heart of the ruins of London at the same site where the young Quinn witnessed the unleashing of the apocalyptic onslaught.
Along the way to the showdown the audience gets treated to excellent performances by the principals who acquit themselves admirably in the roles of action heroes with Bales's understated, haunted resolve contrasting nicely with McConnaughey's Captain Ahab-like zeal. Scuropco adds refreshing spunk to the mix, her cool-headed devotion to the cause not preventing her showing affection to Quinn despite her loyalty to Van Zan. The relentlessly grim and tense mood of the movie pauses for one memorable amusing moment when a famous scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back gets acted out for the community's children as if it were an original bed-time story. Reign of Fire convincingly depicts ravaged countrysides and the smoldering remnants of London---a gritty and grungy environment reflected on the cast---all quite believably grubby. This just makes the dazzling dragons that much more effective, the most impressive renderings of these creatures ever seen on screen. Anatomically credible, deadly, lightning swift, striking quickly and then moving on---genuinely scary---an excellent blending of CGI with live-action.
This film delivers its action, monster-killing thrills and chills, avoiding any campiness, sincerely telling its simple tale of a small group of humans struggling against impossible odds with vivid characters to care about and root for, making it easy to suspend disbelief. Some flaws were noticeable: a rather too abrupt ending; the absence of ethnic diversity among the all-white cast; no explanation for where the fuel for all those tanks, the helicopter and the armored vehicles came from or how the Americans got across the Atlantic unscathed; not to mention the highly implausible draconian biology.
Reign of Fire, nitpicking aside, still can be considered very worthwhile viewing for genre and action-adventure fans with its fine visuals, excellent cast, superb atmospheric score that perfectly enhances the suspenseful mood. The dragons definitely reign supreme.