Reign of Fire (2002)

Director: Rob Bowman
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Alexander Siddig, Ned Dennehy, Izabella Scorupco .UK. 1h 41m

I fell out of love with fantasy movies for the surreal back in my teens, I still enjoy the genre but I live for the way out psychotropic pop surreal that goes that one step beyond. The fantasy genre is riddled with stories of dragons, maidens, cruel giant monsters, laws and riddles but going back to the standard western fantasy realm only gets a film canned as a tiresome Lord of the Rings rip off, so many attempts to bring Fantasy into the modern realm have challenged many a cast and crew, this silly bu entertaining project from X Files director Rob Bowman is interesting but slightly cringe.

After years of working the TV circuit Bowman branched out into a lengthy feature which resurrects a modern tale of dragons and legendary heroes, blending castles and helicopters, a tale of ultimate bravery and sacrifice unfolds.

In it’s meager beginnings, a young boy accompanies his father to work in a dark expanse under London where they accidentally awaken a bonafide living Dragon or Wyvern depending on how pedantic you want to be, they soon begin spewing fire all over the world and become the dominant species.. oh shit. Years later in the early 2020’s (although he preview suggests 2080’s) the young boy has grown into Quinn (Bale) and he does his best to protect a small group of survivors in a modified castle, the best they can do is try to grow food and hide.

30 minutes into the movie they are rescued by a group of American Dragon slayers headed up by Van Zam (McConaughey) a cigar smoking red blooded american whose team have invented a way of taking down dragons using helicopters and a strange parachute display, which is miles away from sword fighting but after seeing how destructive these beasts are, I do have a new found respect for Saint George’s bravery. The two male leads clash over dominance, Quinn is emasculated by Van Zam over his tactics of hiding and staying safe while Van Zam is willing to go out and kill but both men realise that both methods are actually useless and the only way to win is to go to the heart of the problem and wipe dragons off the face of the earth for good, so they head to London to find the original nest, digging up lots of childhood fears for Quinn.

It’s unusual to have so many heroes in one movie, both with totally different personalities and tactics, but Bowman is pretty creative with his character development, although a bit more back story of Van Zam would have really opened the movie. Quinns character is caring and afraid due to what happened to him as a child, and in stark contrast VZ is a bag of uber emotions, he’s fierce and has no fear but there’s an emotive scene where he tears up with emotion. Izabella Scorupco is a helicopter pilot, the only female co-star but she’s not given much to do other than lend a sympathetic ear from time to time.

Fight Fire with Fire

Despite the film feeling silly along the way it’s a great shift in Fantasy /Sci Fi culture, the ideas that castles are the best fortresses against dragons conjure up so many possibilities for a steampunk future, but life with giant fire breathing lizards isn’t really as fun as we’d like to think, unlike Dragonheart they aren’t friendly rational creatures and we’re just little snacks. Bowman isn’t forthcoming to explain why they were just camped out at Covent Garden ( I jest they were just under London) he does take a bold step to explain their method of breathing fire, which is a blend between the spitting cobra and bombardier beetles who have similar methods of mixing chemicals that are sprayed at nearby threats, but these are only deviled into to spur on the plot.

It takes forever to reach the scenes previewed in the trailer, the scorched London horizon doesn’t turn up until the final act, a bit of a a let down but a welcomed change in pace and scenery, but it makes for a full cycle to take the story back to the beginning and gives everyone left a chance of closure despite the foreboding hell like atmosphere.

Once you’ve made it through this epic a few times, you can’t help laughing at the idea, dragons just peacefully sleeping under the big smoke, and no way for us to fight back until a handful of survivors decide to fight back, are we really that useless? But if you stick to what’s on offer in the Reign of Fire universe then it’s a fairly entertaining romp of man against beast. I was expecting the whole thing to be a pet science project gone wrong, much like Jurassic Park. But however it all begins, watching mankind struggle against not being the dominant species is always a marvel.

Rating: 5/10

R: Q (1982), Dragonheart (1996)
L: Dragon Ficks
5s: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Gerard Butler
A: The AOFA Introduction and Brief History of Dragons in Cinema.

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