Reign of Fire

Reign of FireWhile carrying out excavations for the docklands light railway, builders manage to wake up and release a huge, fire-breathing dragon with a taste for human flesh. In no time at all, it’s managed to reproduce, and the buggers are soon popping up all over the world, munching their way through vaste swathes of the population. The response of the assorted governments – trying to bomb hell out of them with nuclear weopans – proves phenomenally unsuccesful, and soon all that’s left are small, desperate outposts of temporary refuge for humankind.

One such outpost is led by Quinn (Christian Bale), who is committed to his vision of hiding out and surviving until the dragons have died out. His views, though, are challenged when a troupe of Americans arrive, led by the charismatic Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey). Van Zan is a former marine, who believes that there’s no option but to take the fight to the dragons… and although his approach leads to a substantial bodycount, Quinn soon starts to come round. Especially when he hears that there is only one male dragon, based in London, and if they manage to kill it they’ll make it impossible for the species to breed.

A kind of sci-fi retelling of traditional dragon-slayering legends, Reign of Fire is a pretty idiosyncratic film, and not at all bad. It takes aspects of Mad Max (the post apocalypse society) and Quatermass and the Pit, then mixes them up with Arthurian legend (Quinn is a reluctant ‘knight’ called upon to slay the dragon and release his people from hardship). The setting – a kind of post-civilised return to the dark ages, with Quinn & co hiding in a Northumbrian castle and trying their best to cultivate crops with the meagre technological remnants they have – is of some interest, and it all rattles along at considerable pace. The ending is, perhaps, a little bathetic and, apart from the leads, none of the supoorting characters are particularly interesting, but it still scores points for trying something a little different and a little more imaginative than many other films.

It also benefits greatly from the participation of Bale – not an easy actor to warm to, but a considerable presence and perfect for these kinds of intense, tormented roles – and McConaughey (who’s normally unwatchable, but pretty good here, sporting an amusing beard that varies length from scene to scene). Gerard Butler, who’s recently become a muscly star of neo-peplums, is unrecognisable as Quinn’s loyal chum and a number of British character actors skulk around in the background. Director Rob Bowman is best known for his work on The X Files, and does a decent enough job. For some reason, this has picked up a lot of criticism among internet critics, but there’s a hell of a lot worse out there…

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