Through The Fire And The Flames We Carry On
Reign of Fire is directed by Rob Bowman and stars Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, and Gerard Butler.
In the year and a half that I have now been writing on this blog, something that has slipped past me is discussion of something I think we as film enthusiasts all know and love in some capacity: guilty pleasure movies. There are sometimes those occasions in which a film presents to you specific elements that speak to you on a certain level, and can sometimes appeal to that young child buried deep within you who never ever did grow up and never ever will grow up. When you actually were a child, you enjoyed watching Saturday morning cartoons or some classic kid-oriented movies that focused on monsters, space creatures, or fantasy beasts, and you as a naive young child didn't give two shits about the more adult matters that are thin plotting, foolish dialogue, and low-quality special effects. You were gonna watch Godzilla stomp other monsters or watch the Power Rangers kick the butts of maniacal evildoers, and you were going to love every minute of it.
So here we have a film that will speak to the forever-young child in all of us, to the guilty pleasure enthusiasts, and to those who love watching movies for the sole purpose of having fun: Reign of Fire, a film hailed by critics as a stupid and silly B movie that is only fun if you turn off your brain. Objectively speaking, this critical consensus is true. Reign of Fire is a post-apocalyptic fantasy film concerning human survival against an army of dragons. Of course it's meant to be fun and entertaining in a silly and kind-of-dumb way. Isn't that kind of the whole point?
The story begins sometime during the early 21st century, in which construction workers for the London Underground discover an underground cave that houses a giant, hibernating dragon. The dragon awakens, killing the workers and flying up to the surface, where more dragons follow suit. The only survivor of this encounter is a boy named Quinn (Ben Thornton), who witnesses his mother get crushed to death while trying to help him escape. We then cut to a montage showing newspaper clippings, telling us that the dragons go on to destroy major cities and famous landmarks, eventually instigating an all-out war with humanity. The war goes so far as to bring about the use of nuclear weapons, but this only adds to the destruction. The newspaper clippings are accompanied by narration from a now grown Quinn (Christian Bale), who informs us of how the dragons were responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and have put the human race on the brink of extinction as well.
The adult Quinn becomes the leader of a community of survivors, living in underground chambers beneath a castle not too far outside of London. One day, the castle is visited by a group of Americans led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), who claims to know the dragons' weakness as well a method for killing them. Quinn is reluctant to trust Van Zan, but with the two sharing a common enemy, he may not have much of a choice.
The most surprising thing about Reign of Fire is how tame it is with its humans vs. dragons plot component, not featuring a single epic scale battle involving tanks, missiles, and swarms of soldiers going up against a horde of fire-breathing dragons. This is something we are only informed of while the newspaper clipping and narration montage is going on, and not anything we get to witness happening. When Quinn, Van Zan, and the other survivors encounter a dragon, it's just a dragon, not a bunch of dragons, which might be a bit of a disappointment if you came to see tanks, missiles, and soldiers vs. dragons. I found it to be a kind of audacious directing decision on the part of Rob Bowman, because he clearly shows how he never wants to lose the sense that his film is post-apocalyptic.
- Post-apocalyptic is absolutely one thing that Reign of Fire can boast about, in terms of how the film looks. Scenes that take place during the day feature gloomy and cloudy skies, utilized through some low key lighting and a dark, de-saturated color palette where the sun doesn't shine and the brightest colors come from the dragon's fiery breath. No, it's not the prettiest looking movie you'll ever see, but it's not supposed to be. This is a world torn apart by war and fire, and hardly anything resembling nature remains.
- Those freaking dragons, man. When they're on screen, they are just the coolest things ever. For 2002, the CGI holds up surprisingly well, perhaps the film serving as a bit of benchmark for CGI dragons. The dragons are what you came to see, and boy do they give you the goods.
-No, I will not go on in length to discuss the film's illogical reasoning and admittedly silly idea of a story. The silliness and the fact that a lot of the story points are dumb are indeed low points, but this is the kind of movie where that stuff should be put aside, because it's going to keep you from truly enjoying what the film does well: the dragons and the post-apocalypse setting. One other thing that was a definite low point for me was the fact that the dragon appearances during the film are surprisingly brief; about 15 minutes of the film's 100 minute run time actually feature dragons facing off against the survivors. The movie can go rather long stretches with Quinn and Van Zan snapping at one another, which is never super interesting, and you are most likely to be thinking to yourself, "Come on! Get back to the dragons already!" The dragons' spotty appearances are like being incredibly parched and finding a water faucet that only works in small intervals. You are desperate for the water, but when you finally get it, oh man are you satisfied.
The other thing to briefly mention is that the movie does a good job of not establishing Quinn as the sure-fire hero and Van Zan as the "human villain". We are never given a clear picture as to which one has the right approach, only the knowledge that these are two men hardened by living in a world where survival is key, but there is no guaranteed way to survive.
There is also no denying that Reign of Fire is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination with regards to its plot and its characters. The idea of humans fighting dragons for the right to be Earth's dominant species is likely to evoke some chuckles and "are you serious?" faces from studio executives, even if they were the most avid fantasy fans out there. Keep in mind though, this is not a film for the overly-objective critics and movie fans who will dismiss this film as nothing more than B movie trash. Reign of Fire is a movie for all the dragon lovers out there and all those whose inner child just loves to watch dragons, monsters, or whatever set stuff on fire and chomp on some chumps. This is a film that loves its dragons, and despite how brief they may appear, they deliver in just about every way they need to. A guilty pleasure film from start to finish, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Recommend? If you love dragons and/or may be in need of a guilty pleasure film, this movie is for you.
(I can't give the film a high grade just because I have guilty pleasure affection for it. The flaws have to be a factor in my grading, even though I encourage you to ignore most of them for this film.)
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: