Monday, April 23, 2012

Reign of Fire (2002)

Title: Reign of Fire (2002)

Director: David Bowman

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Izabella Scorupco


Dragon films are a rare bunch, and most of the time they are not taken very seriously. The big problem with dragon films is that same as werewolf movies, for some reason they are not very popular with the masses. It’s only when these films are prepackaged as family friendly fare that the make any bank, for example Rob Cohen’s Dragonheart (1996), a family friendly dragon film if there ever was any that went on to make a hefty intake at the box office. Taking in consideration how few good dragon movies get made, when a big budget dragon movie comes along, I always raise my hopes up, excited at the prospect of seeing these mythical creatures come to life on the silver screen.

The last time that a dragon film truly impressed me was with Matthew Robin’s Dragonslayer (1981). To date, and in my humble opinion, that is the best dragon film ever made. That film presented us with not only an awesome looking dragon, but also a very believable depiction of the Dark Ages. And again, it was a flop at the box office, which does not make it a bad film, it only affirms the fact that dragons aren’t all that popular with audiences. Other films have come close to being as good, but they’ve never surpassed the awesomeness that is ‘Vermithrax Pejorative’. When Reign of Fire came along, I was expecting something awesome. Why? Well, the creative team behind it was a good one, the cast was top notch…the posters promised chaos in the London skies. Plus, advancements in special effects technology had come to so far. I was expecting to feel the heat from the dragons breath, alas, this didn’t happen. Why did Reign of Fire disappoint?

In Reign of Fire, the world has been ravaged by fire breathing dragons. They’ve burned the earth to a crisp; you see in this film, these monsters live off of ashes! The governments of the world retaliated by trying to wipe these creatures out with nuclear weapons, but that plan failed. These creatures are impervious to even that! Unfortunately, the battle against the dragons has transformed the entire world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Human survivors are scarce. The film focuses on a group of survivors who live in an old castle in England. They strive for normalcy in the midst of the ashes. The leader of this group of people is Quinn, a man who tries desperately to give them peace and hope. One day, from out of the blue, a group of American dragon slayers led by a man called ‘Van Zan’, show up at the castle door steps. They claim to know the way to kill dragons; but are they to be trusted?   

The film does present us with an interesting premise, that of dragons taking over the world. Dragons have burned the earth to a crisp! Some time has elapsed since the dragons first appeared and humanity has now all but faded. This has made the creatures extremely hungry, which makes them all the more dangerous; in spite of this the film fails to make the dragons feel like a real threat, in fact, save for the finale, the dragons aren’t really seen all that much. What Dragonslayer did so right was transmit the idea that this evil creature was alive, the dragon never talked (they sometimes do in these movies) but you could almost hear the thoughts stirring in its head. Put plainly, the dragon in Dragonslayer had a freaking personality. In contrast, the dragons in Reign of Fire are lifeless, almost non existent. They aren’t characters. To be honest, these dragons felt like CGI background to me; as if the director was afraid or embarassed to be making a monster movie. In his own words Bowman says on the dvd that he couldnt believe he was here, making a monster movie. A B-movie. So he set out to make a b-movie with a-list production values.  Unfortunately, he decided not to focus on the creatures we are so eager to see; which in part is what brings the film down for me and one of the reasons why this film is a notch below Dragonslayer. The dragons simply didn’t feel tangible or organic, this my friends is a problem I have with many of today’s effects heavy films and it’s something I try and get adjusted to, but hell, its kind of hard to connect with something that is so obviously not there.

I don’t want to turn this review into another rant about the pitfalls of CGI, but I miss those days when I felt like the monsters where there. Still, I’m not saying that Reign of Fire is a complete throw away of a film because it isn’t. The cast is solid, we get to see Gerard Butler back in the days when his career was just getting started; McConaughey when his career still mattered and a pre Dark Knight Christian Bale. Oddly enough; it’s not Christian Bale who shines on this one but Matthew McConaughey with his ‘Van Zan’ character. Aside from having a cool ass name, his character’s just a kick ass mother. He’s intimidating, he chomps on cigars, he’s bald and he’s oh so American.  Van Zan and his group of dragon slayers suddenly invade the film. They present us with an interesting contrast to the colony Christian Bale is the leader of. You see, Quinn’s followers hide from the dragons and are waiting for them to die off on their own while Van Zan and his team take dragons head on. Van Zan has found a way to kill dragons! And I’m watching the film and thinking how this film would have been so much more exciting had it been told from Van Zan’s point of view. The story of Van Zan and his team of dragon slayers seemed more interesting to me then the one about Quinn running an orphanage. Van Zan’s team has this technique where they try and catch dragons with nets, by flying extreme hights on helicopter and then jumping off the choppers with parachutes and these giant nets. These scenes actually make up the most thrilling scenes on the film. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t focus so much on this new technique for killing dragons and you’re kind of left with the desire to see more of Van Zan and his ”angels”.

The dragons themselves leave a lot to be desired, you kind of want to see more of them. The film does this really lazy thing where it kind of shows us how the apocalypse began via a series of news paper articles and news footage. This is not what we want to see. What we want to see are dragons destroying London with the fire! We want to see dragons melting everything away and turning the world into ashes, but no, I guess the films budget wasn’t enough to show us this. A wasted opportunity if you ask me, it’s either they had no budget for it, or lazy filmmaking, you be the judge. Ultimately, for me, the film is very uneven. It had a lot of potential but failed to live up to it. It got somethings right and others completely wrong. This kind of film I judge on a different level then say 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983) because on those cheap Italian films it’s the other way around. They have no money, but the crazy ideas come out of the woodwork! But when a film like Reign of Fire comes along, with a decent budget, good actors and a competent director, yet still manages to disappoint, well, I just can’t forgive it. Still, Reign of Fire is watchable; it’s well shot, and looks appropriately bleak. Unfortunately, it might not live up to your expectations of what a good dragon film should be.  

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5  



Manuel Marrero said...

Saw this in theaters. I like it, its no masterpiece but a cool flick. Love that part when Bale and Gerald Butler act out scenes from Star wars.

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, this is a pretty fun flick. I think a lot of people got hung up on the fact it wasn't wall to wall dragons and dismissed it.

McConaughey was brilliant as Van Zan but yeah, Bale didn't make much of an impression. Between this and Terminator Salvation maybe he should quit acting in post apocalyptic flicks.

Franco Macabro said...

It certainly has it's moments, I love that "money shot" with Van Zan flying through the air with his axe, cool stuff.

Plus that scene with the dragonslayers flying through the skies and the dragon hiding from them between the clouds, that was great.

Unknown said...

You raise a good point - I'd love to see a spin-off film with Van Zan and his crew but only if it was directed by John Carpenter in the same vein as VAMPIRES. Now, that would be cool.

abdul666 said...

An original post-apocalyptic movie, and one of the very few dragons films (with Dragonslayer) with anatomically credible beasts. That is, with the forelimbs turned into wings, like with all Real World flying Vertebrates. 'Traditional' dragons - quadripedal giant lizards with a pair of wings added on the back- just like angels, succubi and centaurs have to come from a world (Barsoom? Kregen?) where Vertebrates are hexapedals. But, chiefly, the 'arms' are right in the way of the powerful fly muscles -which are blatantly absent, as is the huge breastbone to attach them!

For sure there *will* be a dragon (if a single one, the last survivor of the race as in Dragonslayer) in 'Bilbo', at least in the 2nd part. Hope the Jackson team will make it credible.

Franco Macabro said...

J.D.: Exactly! I would have loved a movie like that!

abdul666: I've noticed how most post-apocalyptic movies like to give their own twist to things. For example Stakeland a post-apocalyptic vampire flick. I definetly gotta give that to Reign of Fire, the only post apocalyptic film about dragons there is.

I hear the type of dragon we see in Reign of Fire is called a "Wyvern" because of how it's wings are also it's arms or something like that.

Agree with ya, I'm looking forward to Jackson's take on dragons in the upcoming 'The Hobbit' films. I wonder if the dragon design will be the one that Guillermo del Toro worked on, which I hear was really different from anything out there or if Jackson will just go his own way with it. In any case, the results should be note worthy.

Thanks for commenting!

venoms5 said...

I saw this one in the theater, too, Fran... three times, actually, lol. I thought there was a little more going on here with the human characters than the average monster flick. It reminded me of MAD MAX with dragons, essentially. They spent 60 million on it, by the way. The REIGN OF FIRE video game on the PS2 was right fun to play, too.

If you wanna see dragons tearing up a city, you oughta check out this other movie from Korea called DRAGON WARS that was the biggest Korean film at the time. It's really stupid, a terrible film, but the dragon scenes are a lot of fun and it's really bizarre seeing Robert Forster in it.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Venom, saw Dragon Wars a while back, it's a bit cheesier with the effects work, but you're right it was a fun monster flick.

SFF said...

Okay brother. I'm sorry but you've got this one all wrong. Reign of Fire kicks it. : )

I enjoy your perspective, but dragons with terrific character moments and a good deal of suspense. This is just too damn delicious to toss aside.

As Jack said, it's a "fun flick."
Venom5 saw it three times!

Having said all this, your final assessment of three and a half stars is pretty fair and I might say this is a four star movie, but despite the grade I think you are more in two star territory with your feelings on this picture my friend. Maybe 2.5 stars.

Bottom line, Reign Of Fire is a solid monster flick and I respectfully differ with my dear friend Franco on this one. : )

Cheers as always

Franco Macabro said...

SFF, I think 3 1/2 is a good rating, and my review is not all negative points, in fact, it's mostly positive ones save for my disconnection with the dragons, but hey, I'll try a re-watch and let you know how it goes, maybe I was in a shitty mood that day.


Related Posts with Thumbnails