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of Fire, Reviewed by Falstaff
fantasy. A strange idea, but one that works in this interesting
little genre-busting movie about dragons and dragonslayers.
first look, this movie looks like your typical post-apocalyptic
sci-fi thriller. The world has been scorched by dragons, which have
been released from deep underneath London completely by accident.
All major cities have been burned to ash and rubble, and the few
human survivors live practically underground, in constant fear of
the marauding dragons. It’s kind of like The Road Warrior,
but with dragons instead of leather-wearing, blood-hungry bandits.
However, this movie has some rather surprising fantasy elements
in it (besides the fire-breathing behemoths).
Bale is well cast as Quinn Abercromby, the leader of a small community
of survivors in England. Quinn also happens to be the son of one
of the engineers that unwittingly put the dragons back onto the
top of the food chain. Matthew McConaughey does an incredible job
as Denton Van Zan, the leader of the “Kentucky Irregulars”
– a small band of Americans who have come to England to hunt
down the sole male dragon, which they believe lives in London. Quinn
and Van Zan are both capable leaders, but each has different approaches
to the dragon problem. While Quinn wants to hole up and wait for
the dragons to die off, Van Zan has a much more proactive approach.
of the more interesting aspects of the movie (and one that makes
Reign of Fire more fantasy than sci-fi) is the medieval imagery
that pervades the movie. Van Zan conjures up images of a roving
barbarian warrior – besides having a shaved head and being
heavily tattooed, McConaughey (who beefed up considerably for this
movie) has mastered the menacing, brutal glare of a fearless, almost
maniacal warrior. He wears a vest-jacket with a thick collar that
is reminiscent of a breastplate, and carries a massive battleaxe
on his back. When Van Zan calls himself a dragonslayer, you have
no choice but to believe it.
on the other hand, is more reminiscent of a knight. Besides having
the slightly shaggy hair and beard that often characterizes a knight
in movies, and the more slender (but still muscular) figure of a
classical knight, Quinn wears a very interesting sweater. This black
sweater is thick with a large weave that looks very much like a
mail shirt. (Actually, it looks exactly like the mail shirt that
Antonio Banderas wears in 13th Warrior.) The silver patch
on the shoulder further adds to the imagery of armor. Quinn rides
a horse (as opposed to Van Zan’s tank), and there is a spectacular
scene early in the movie where Quinn uses himself as bait for a
dragon – riding at full speed away from the maw of the beast.
Quinn is very knightly – worried about the people that he
leads and their welfare above all else. As well, the community that
he leads lives in a ruin that is very reminiscent of a castle –
complete with a keep, walls, and a portcullis.
medieval imagery includes the hawk used to sight incoming dragons,
a burial pyre in a cemetery filled with makeshift Celtic-style crucifixes,
and the ending battle scene, which (avoiding spoilers) involves
some crossbows and Van Zan’s battleaxe.
dragons are something particularly cool to see. Although there are
few close-ups, and in general the dragons are moving very quickly
or are in the distance, obscured by mist and smoke, they are well
designed (even if the animation is hard to judge). The designers
apparently took great care in designing something that was unlike
any dragons seen in other movies, but enough like a “standard
dragon” that there are no “what were these guys thinking
when they drew this” moments. Seeing these creatures in flight
is quite possibly one of the highlights of the film.
are also a few rather funny or enjoyable moments in the film, one
in particular involving a short scene from The Empire Strikes
technology is mostly ignored in the movie – only one sequence
involves any gadgetry at all – really cementing the movie’s
place as fantasy rather than sci-fi.
the storyline is fairly standard for post-apocalyptic movies –
two leaders clash and then come together, and humans win out in
the end. The ideas about “how dragons work” are original
and interesting, particularly the process for creating “natural
napalm,” as it is called.
the slightly weak and very predictable plot, this movie is not bad.
If you can accept the explanations of how, why, and when for the
dragons, then the movie can be a really enjoyable experience despite
its rather typical plot. Although not a cinematic masterpiece, Reign
of Fire is an exciting and fun movie that hearkens back to favorite
ancient tales of knights and dragonslayers.