I’ve been meaning to watch Reign of Fire for a while, because, well, in case you missed it, I’m a Gerard Butler fan. Every time I mentioned it, my husband would roll his eyes and say “Really?” and I would nod shamefacedly. You see, we’d somehow got the impression that a movie about a post-apocalyptic world wherein humans are being forced to the brink of extinction by dragons starring Christian Bale (ok, bringing a little bit of seriousness), Matthew McConaughey (canceling said seriousness out), and Gerard Butler (charming as the sidekick) would be silly, cheesy, and downright bad. I can’t imagine why we’d think that, can you? But, I am here to tell you that appearances can be deceiving, and that Reign of Fire, while not exactly great, is surprisingly none of the above.
Our story takes place in England in 2020. Civilization as we know it has been destroyed by a seemingly indestructible plague of dragons. Yes, those big winged creatures that breathe fire, and all. Apparently, they show up every so often to cleanse the earth before going back into hibernation. Anyway, Quinn (Bale), who has a history with the beasts, heads up an enclave of survivors, most of them children, along with his friend Creedy (Butler). Their safe existence is threatened by the arrival of a group of American soldiers, led by Denton Van Zan (McConaughey, doing some kind of Mad Max thing). Van Zan and his team, which includes helicopter pilot Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco), have perfected a method of bringing dragons down, but their numbers and supplies are much diminished, and so they appeal to Quinn and his followers for assistance. Ultimately, Quinn and Van Zan must put aside their differences in order to team up to rid the planet of dragons for good.
It sounds so ridiculous, doesn’t it? Christian Bale is, I suppose, known for a certain amount of gravitas, but McConaughey is more often the exact opposite. The generalization holds true here, but the movie itself, instead of just being a cheesy action flick, is actually rather gritty and dark. Even though McConaughey’s character is completely over-the-top and crazy, he doesn’t play him for laughs. Dragon-killing is a serious business. Bale is doing the stoic, forced-into-leadership thing, whereas Butler’s job is to bring a bit of lightness to the situation. A scene in which Quinn and Creedy enact an exciting duel (no spoilers here!) for the kids before bedtime is pretty much worth the price of admission, but it’s maybe the only truly funny scene in the whole movie. The end, which is naturally fairly predictable, follows an emotional climax involving most of Van Zan’s troops and Quinn’s survivors being wiped out; the darkest hour being before dawn, and all that.
What Reign of Fire does well is treat its subject matter with just the right amount of sobriety and tension. The cinematography is quite good, the acting is above average, and I personally thought that the effects were excellent. They didn’t dwell too much on the dragons, preferring to show them from either a wide perspective or an extremely close one, which made scenes look a lot more realistic and gave the overall feel a little more weight. Where the movie falls short, however, is in terms of the dialogue and overall plot. You don’t have to have seen too many movies to know that the good guys (humans) are going to win the day, but beyond that the dialogue just didn’t leave a whole lot of room for personality or character development. The actors are simply a device that moves the story along. They’re good actors, so they do their job, but you can’t help but wish for a little more connection with them. I know action films aren’t usually where you go if you’re looking for dynamic characterization, but they could have been a little less one-note, in my opinion.
Again, it’s not a great movie, but it’s not a bad one, either. It was enjoyable to watch, and a bit more tense and dramatic than I expected. So if you’ve been saving this one for Stupid Movie Night, you might want to swap it out for something that is properly awful, instead of moderately decent. Add this one to your next Christian Bale or Gerard Butler marathon instead. Ooh, Gerard Butler marathon … that sounds fun. Hmm.