What is it about Creature Features that intrigues us? Why do some of us derive staisfaction from seeing creatures that defy the laws of nature and physics devour helpless human beings? Is it because some of us know deep down that mankind has gone in the wrong direction and we enjoy seeing the slate wiped clean? Whatever the reason, I have always loved this genre of film, so I was looking forward to Reign of Fire with some anticipation. I thought I would spend a couple of hours in a cool, dark theatre with a bunch of rowdy strangers and enjoy a mindless, action packed summer popcorn flick. I fully expected to laugh at the cheesy dialogue and then forget the film within minutes of leaving the theatre. Boy,was I wrong...
I must say that Reign of Fire was one of the more gruelling experiences I have had at the movies. The film has a propulsive quality to it that begins in the first act and never lets up. The script wisely veers away from camp and plays it straight, emphasizing the gravity of the situation rather than its inherent implausibility. Let's face it, we are not likely to look up into the sky and see dragons anytime soon. To create any tension in a film like this, an audience has to believe that the characters' dilemma is real. The film has an almost palpable feel of dread to it, and the scenes with the characters hundled in their sanctuary like moles are effectively claustrophobic. What hurts the script are the plot inconsistencies that abound. (spoiler) If the bull dragon was stirred from his slumber as the beginning suggests, where did all the females come from? However, this is just a minor quibble. The movie finds its level and works well on it. The enlightened view of the dragons as scientifically feasible creatures is certainly a new wrinkle. They are portrayed as hungry predators, not as magical creatures of myth. Even their fire breath is explained in a logical way! These updates on dragon lore redeem the script's rough spots.
Special mention must be made of the cinematography and special effects. The film has an appropriately moody, grimy look, where everything is dust and smoke and even the light seems to be struggling for survival. And the CGI in this film is awesome! This is the most seamless integration of computer generated effects and live action I have ever seen in a movie like this. The dragons, especially the bull, are genuinely scary and so life like that you almost believe they could exist. Almost. When was the last time you could say that about a movie?
Christian Bale continues to prove that he is one of the best actors working in the movies. His Quinn is a man who has been brutalized by so many horrific experiences that he can no longer deal with the reality of his situation. His solution is defensive in nature, as he wants nothing more than to protect his tribe and wait for the creatures to simply starve to death. Bales never lets us forget that death is a heartbeat away in this movie. On the other hand, McConaughey is, well, McConaughey. His gonzo American dragon slayer is also effective, but he doesn't lose himself in the role. His screen presence has progressed to the point that it is now almost impossible for him to just be a character actor. Still, his scenes resonate with coolness, and his final scene is so intense it has to be seen to be believed. The leads eschew the stereotypes and sell the story, by taking the subject matter seriously and not winking at the audience everytime they're on screen. Their chemistry is effective, if volatile.
What more can I say? This movie is so intense that I found myself shifting uncomfortably throughout the entire proceedings. This one is definietly a nail biter, and only the most hardened cynic will be able to resist getting caught up in the energy and excitement onscreen. Reign of Fire is not a passive movie going experience. You're right there with the characters, anxiety churning all the way through. It is wildly entertaining and actually thought provoking. The movie is not so much about dragons as it is about the apocalypse. What would you do if almost 100% of the earth's population was wiped out? Is there really any reason to go on? This film was still with me when I woke up this morning, a full twelve hours after seeing it. It's a shame that a movie this good is struggling to find an audience.
Great characters, wonderful effects, brisk pacing, intense atmosphere. What is there not to like? Reign of Fire is quickly heading towards cult status, so see it now in the theatre while you still can. Tell your friends, family, whoever. There is still time for a second wind. The ending is ambiguous, almost like the producers were anticipating a possible sequel. Let's see if we can make it happen.