U.S. Release Date: July 12, 2002
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Matt Greenberg
Producer: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman (executive)
Composer: Ed Shearmur
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler
Running Time: 1 hour and 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense action violence)

Refreshingly Straightforward
by C.A. Wolski

For all its failings—and there are some—Reign of Fire has succeeded in one crucial area. It's one of the few summer films that actually contains a plot. Set in England in the near future, the film details the destruction of most of mankind and the planet at the fiery breath of a species of Jurassic dragons. After years of laying waste to the planet and devouring the entire food supply—consisting primarily of humanity—the dragons are slowly starving and will soon begin a long period of hibernation. This is what Quinn (Christian Bale) is counting on as he and his small band hole up in a ruined castle raising tomatoes in hopes that they can survive long enough to be rid of the dragons. Enter Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and his Kentucky Irregulars. Fresh from the United States with heavy weapons and a reputation as dragon killers, Van Zan is on the offensive leading his men and women with the fervor of a religious zealot on a search and destroy mission for the only male dragon. Destroying the male of species will end the dragon threat.

Reign of Fire succeeds on several levels. Its clear-cut man versus nature theme and morally focused characters are refreshing in a season filled with muddle-headed thinking and empty action set pieces. Director Rob Bowman creates a grim future with mankind barely holding on against a truly terrifying foe. In light of several of the images the film shows of a burning New York—particularly of the Empire State Building in flames—the dragons could even serve as a satisfying stand in for the Al Qaeda terrorists which makes the absolutism of Van Zan and his identification of the dragons as evil refreshing. The action set pieces, particularly the hunt of a dragon by Van Zan's army unit, are expertly handled and exciting. There is a foreboding throughout the film that mankind will not win.

With all it has going for it, Reign of Fire does fail on some counts. The lack of character development, particularly in the motivation of Bale's Quinn, who was inadvertently responsible for the resurrection of the bull dragon, limit the emotional impact of several of the scenes. The dialogue is fairly weak even by science fiction standards with McConaughey uttering a string of bizarre lines near the end of the film. Although we are spared a typical lame summer movie romance ala Star Wars, Izabella Scorupco as helicopter pilot Alex is horrible, drifting from one accent to another and looking completely lost in several scenes.

But what matters most in an action film is the plot and Reign of Fire has a good one which includes scares, a little emotion, and even a couple of appropriate laughs—particularly one involving a post-apocalyptic retelling of The Empire Strikes Back. The film also has a refreshingly straightforward and satisfying conclusion with Bale and McConaughey going mano-a-draco in the ruins of London.

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