Rob Greenberg

Reign of Fire (2002)

Reign of Fire is not a great film, but it does deliver what it promises. If you’re… a 15-year old adolescent male that thinks a post-apocalyptic world where man has to struggle for survival against dragons sounds awesome, then you’ll love this movie. I would know.

Mankind has involuntarily unleashed a prehistoric species of dragons from their slumber. These creatures fly, multiply quickly, feed on ash and whipped out the dinosaurs before going into hibernation. Now it’s 2020, and civilization has been reduced to cinders. Quinn (Christian Bale) is the leader of a community of survivors living in a castle in Northumberland. When a group of American dragon slayers led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) arrives, Quinn and his best friend Creedy (Gerard Butler) are wary but forced to trust them.

You’re going to need major suspension of disbelief to watch Reign of Fire. Its dragons have been hibernating underground for who knows how long, eat ash and their population growth always means the complete and total annihilation of every other species on the planet, at which points they go back into hibernation. Even if you can swallow that, it’s impossible to believe the outrageous weakness the species has been given, a decision that is clearly there in order to give the humans a chance at survival. The film is so one-sided, with just a single dragon easily besting hundreds of humans individually that only a gift from the writer could save our heroes.

On a more technical level, I have two other problems with the movie. One is the look. Reign of Fire is soot-colored in nearly every scene and isn’t interesting to look at unless dragons are on-screen. When the heroes are talking, the main actors are charismatic so you want to pay attention but everything outside the castle is dust and ash, everything inside the castle is dust and rocks and all of the survivors wear dark grey cloaks. I wish they had colorful paintings or something to break up the visual monotony. 

My last complaint is the tone. This film takes itself very seriously, meaning everyone is growling and frowning their way through all of their lines. Did none of the writers take a step back and realize what kind of film they were making? It’s a post-apocalyptic dragon movie! Have some fun!

Those are some minor issues you only notice where there aren’t dragons raining destruction everywhere. The creatures are threatening and intimidating. They’re even a little bit frightening in the tense moments where our heroes have to sneak by them. The special effects that bring them to life are excellent. They live in a world that’s surprisingly well fleshed-out. You can tell that it’s been more than a decade since our heroes have been organizing their castle. They’ve installed sprinkler systems, have dug tunnels underground for extra space and shelter, they’ve assembled bits and pieces of gear from all over the place to tackle emergencies and they have a plan. Unfortunately for them, the supplies are running out and their plan of “wait it out, the dragons will starve eventually” isn’t working. You understand the Van Zan’s motivation to fight despite the heavy toll this strategy has already brought. The acting is also quite good. McConaughey, Butler, and Bale all play their roles well and feel like real people. You’re here for the special effects, and they still hold up, particularly the practical effects, but the human bits fare well too.

Is a post-apocalyptic film about humans fighting dragons what you want to see? If yes, then check out Reign of Fire. It’s downright nutty at times, but you won’t care. You shouldn’t. Director Rob Bowman had a vision: of seeing mankind fight these medieval monsters not with swords and shields, but with helicopters and explosive rounds. That’s what we got and I choose to embrace it. (On Blu-ray, June 27, 2014)