RETROREVIEWS #16: REIGN OF FIRE (2002)

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MAY 22, 2013 SCREENING: REIGN OF FIRE (2002)

 

Sadly, for me, Reign of Fire is one of those films that fell into “This should be a blast, but its not” category. Other examples are Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. They’re the kind of movies where the basic premise of the movie is so bizarre and edgy that it sounds like the movie is going to be a fun experience, no matter how the film is executed. For example, when it came to Tim Burton (a weirdo, cutting edge director) + Alice in Wonderland (a weirdo, cutting edge book) , the combined result should have watchable and interesting, even if it was badly made. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

 

The same is true with Reign of Fire. Of course, it gives you an intriguing and really awesome premise. This is a traditional fantasy film about dragons, featuring the standard versions of dragons we’re used to from European folklore (giant, powerful fire-breathing, winged reptilian creatures) with one unique twist: it happens in the future. Instead of the setting occurring in the dark ages, or medieval times, or even some imaginary world with wizards that looks quasi-Arthurian age), this movie takes place in London in the year 2084 A.D. A science fiction element has been added to explain why Dragons are running rampant in the future when they’re unknown in present day. In the film, it turns out that Dragons are a type of forgotten prehistoric creature that was long assumed to be a myth, but they were reawakened in the year 2020, and now they’ve become a terrible outbreak with millions of dragons terrorizing mankind in only a few short years. The result is that the people of London try to fight back by any means possible – and we’re treated to battles with dragons involving helicopters, tanks, drones, computer targets, and machine guns.

 

All of that sounds like it would make for a fun movie. Of course, as I mentioned above, its not. Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey are the leads in this movie, and neither one does anything interesting. Bale, in particular, plays the same type of “inspirational one-man, self-appointed military leader” he played in numerous other roles (most notably as Batman and John Connor in Termination: Salvation). Why Bale keeps getting so many leading man roles is beyond me, since he was fairly dull and one-note in those movies, and the same is true here.

 

The film plods along but never really develops. A couple of plot points are introduced that seem like they’d be important later on (like the soldiers discovering every Dragon they’ve encountered in public is female, so there must be a lone “alpha male” breeder dragon hiding somewhere), but none of these plot developments really take the story in a new direction or pay off later. As expected, they eventually find the male dragon by the end of the movie and kill it (in a scene that goes exactly how you’d expect), and there’s no plot twists after that, either. The movie just gives us the obligatory warning that the dragons may return someday and “they’ll be ready for them”.

 

Take away some cool looking dragon affects, and this is your standard dreary and gritty war movie. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly good, either. It’s just acceptable. Apparently some of the fault lies in the fact the the movie was shot during the crisis of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in western Europe. Since most of the scenes were filmed on location in England and Ireland, many planned sequences from the script had to be scraped. The end result is still a coherent movie that holds together and makes logical sense, but doesn’t deliver anything innovative or exciting.

 

In the end, I’m just sorry that I can’t recommend Reign of Fire to anyone. It was a really great idea, for what it’s worth.

 

** out of ****

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