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Reign of Fire

Reign of Fire (2002) Movie Poster
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  •  USA / UK / Ireland  •    •  101m  •    •  Directed by: Rob Bowman.  •  Starring: Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler, Scott Moutter, David Kennedy, Alexander Siddig, Ned Dennehy, Rory Keenan, Terence Maynard, Doug Cockle, Randall Carlton, Chris Kelly.  •  Music by: Ed Shearmur.
        It is twenty years in the future, and the planet has been devastated by vicious fire-breathing dragons. The last vestiges of humanity now struggle for survival in at remote ouposts. In a ruined castle in the English countryside, Quinn is desperately trying to hold together a band of frightened, restless survivors. As a boy, Quinn watched his mother die protecting him from one of the beasts, and is still haunted by the memory. One day, a group of American rouges shows up, led by a brash, tough-guy named Van Zam. He claims to have discovered a way to kill the dragons once and for all, and enlists Quinn's help. But doing so will force Quinn to confront his own frightening memories. This, and Quinn's responsibilities to those that are under his protection, results in a battle of wills between the two men. In the end, events cause them both to realize that they must work together to defeat the monsters--both without and within.

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Review:

Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
Image from: Reign of Fire (2002)
He WAS Patrick Bateman. Is. Whatever. While the film might not have been totally flawless -' let's face it, most of the book was unfilmable, and I think they did a great job overall -' Bale was untouchable as Bateman. Especially with the voice.

Ironic, then, that it's that very thing -' his voice, or rather his accent -' that really lets REIGN OF FIRE down. It's certainly not the only thing, but it goes a long way to making this film come across as totally ludicrous.

OK -' I know what you're thinking. `This is a film about dragons, mate! Of course it's ludicrous...' and yeah, I concur. But the problem is that any time a film that is pure fantasy has an element within that is unintentional comedy you tend to find that the entire piece is left somewhat farcical. I do tend to natter a bit during movies anyway (not loud enough to a problem to anyone apart from whomsoever is sitting next to me) but I found myself cracking joke after joke every time there was a pause after Bale's character spoke: `Cor blimey Mary Poppins!', `Love a duck, apples and pairs, three for a pound!' etc etc. I couldn't help myself. The accent was that bad; straight out of Dick van Dyke school of British stereotypes.

The movie begins in present-day London. Twelve-year old Quinn (Ben Thornton) pays a visit to his mother, a construction engineer, as her team work on improvements to the London Underground. Quinn watches on in horror as the team accidentally wake a huge, dormant dragon from an endless sleep. The dragon goes on a terrible rampage and the young Quinn is the only survivor. Over the next two decades, the world has been ravaged by thousands of dragons that have virtually wiped out humanity. We learn through the safe but somewhat tiresome format of press clippings (from TIME, and other publications) how the dragons have destroyed all of the world's major landmarks and that mankind is virtually on the brink of extinction.

Fast forward to 2020, and the older Quinn is now the leader of a small group of survivors, who eke out a humble existence in Northumberland. Quinn, still haunted by the death of his mother, does his best to maintain a community of adults and children within the ruins of a castle. Their only source of food is a once-a-year apple harvest, and the crop is thinning. Folks are getting hungry, and some of the camp want to take what they can from the harvest now, ahead of time, but Quinn is adamant that they should wait until the crop is fully ripened, and can be re-harvested. When a team of dissidents decide to take matters into their own hands and grab some apples early, half of the crop, and one of the party, is destroyed by one of the dragons. We learn that the dragons basically live on death -' their food source is the ash from burnt human and animal remains. Due to the wipeout of mankind, the dragons are also on the verge of starvation, and their numbers have thinned. However, because of their eternal hunger, they have become more dangerous than ever. Quinn has become stuck somewhere between a castle and a hard place -' what to do, stay and starve, or move on and risk everyone being killed?

Matters are made somewhat more complex by the arrival of Van Zan (a very buffed Matthew McConaughey, who clearly spent many hours down the gym for this role.), an emotionless, tough, focused military type who brands himself as a `dragonslayer'. Quinn dislikes Van Zan on site, but when Van Zan and his team of assorted militia take out a large female dragon (using all kinds of fancy equipment, plus a helicopter) he grudgingly gives his respect.

Quinn meets Alex Jansen (played by Polish actress Izabella Scorupco, whose best known previous appearance was in VERTICAL LIMIT), Van Zan's helicopter pilot, and receives two key pieces of information: firstly, that the dragons' eyesight, while superior to mans, is questionable during times of low light (i.e., dusk). And secondly, and most importantly, we learn that all of the dragons, bar one, are female. The male, who has never been seen by Van Zan or his team, fertilises all the thousands of females while remaining in an area of relative safety -' Van Zan believes that the male is still in London, the location of the first attack. Quinn realises that the male is the first dragon he ever saw -' the one who killed his mother.

Van Zan then tips his hand -' he wants to use some of Quinn's men to lead a team into London to kill the male, thus effectively securing the termination of the species. Quinn goes ballastic, and the two engage in a spot of violent slap 'n tickle. Quinn is no match for Van Zan's physical toughness, however, and soon it becomes apparent that his battle with Van Zan is a lost cause -' half a dozen of Quinn's people volunteer on their own free will. Believing the attack to be a suicide mission, Quinn refuses to go, and Van Zan and his team set off alone.

It transpires that Quinn's fear was well-grounded when all of Van Zan's team, bar Alex, are wiped out by a single attack from the male, who then traces their tracks back to the castle, effectively destroying it and dozens of Quinn's people. Quinn realises that if any of them are going to survive, they are going to have to take on the male and kill it. Together, Quinn, Van Zan and Alex head back to London in a desperate bid to save humanity.

Gasp. Okay -' that's pretty much the movie in a nutshell, sans the final battle, and I'm not going to spoil that for you. I've already ratted heavily on Bale's accent in this film -' it truly is one of the worst you will have ever heard -' and Van Zan's Southern American hick-speak didn't exactly add much to the film either. Now, when you throw in Izabella Scorupco's Polish flavourings in there as well, you have a bizarre, and somewhat comical, little mixture. The acting, too, is surprisingly weak considering the strength of the male leads -' Bale appears to be very much going through the motions, and while McConaughey's character is physically impressive, he plays the role way too much over the top for my tastes, and is a bit too one-dimensional. Scorupco is basically there to offer a hint of potential romance for Quinn, and didn't really add anything to the movie or the plot.

The movie did have some good stuff, though; throughout, the SFX are superb, and this is arguably the greatest visualisation of dragons that Hollywood has yet produced. The beasts, particularly the impressive male, are an example of CGI at its best, and it's only on occasion that you find yourself questioning them, but for a movie that is specifically about dragons they are criminally underused. For a world that has been ravaged by thousands of dragons, we only really get to see them in action on three occasions -' once, when the crop is destroyed, a second time when Van Zan and his team kill one, and finally in the battle with the male at the end. There is a major cop out when Quinn and Van Zan arrive in London to see the male's fortress protected by hundreds of females, only for all of the beasts to fly off when the male decides to eat one of them for lunch. Not only does this make Quinn's dragonslaying mission a hell of a lot easier, it denies us what the movie's poster promised but the film failed to deliver -' a massive battle between humans and dragons, as opposed to a smaller melee between three humans and one (albeit very large) male. I saw this movie with several friends and we all agreed that on this count it fell short -' you felt completely cheated and it was very much a case of a story that had great potential but didn't really know how to give the audience what they wanted.

It probably would have been a better film if instead of skipping twenty years of dragons we'd have joined the movie a couple of years in; that is, right in the prime of the dragons' attack on mankind and the planet.

Oh yeah -' look out for a very amusing STAR WARS parody in the first half of the movie. That was probably the highlight for me (well, aside from the trailer for RED DRAGON that preceded the film -' now that's a film I'm really looking forward to!)

Overall, certainly not a bad film, but very much a wasted opportunity. Box office so far has been reasonable but I don't think a sequel is likely, which is probably a good and a bad thing. With a bigger budget, and a better understanding of what the public expects, a sequel could have maybe delivered something that Hollywood, nor REIGN OF FIRE, despite amazing CGI, cannot seem able to do -' produce the definitive dragon flick.


Review by Shea Bennett from the Internet Movie Database.

 

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