I know what you're thinking... this can't be right... but it is! Reign of Fire had the potential to be a bad joke on the face of Cinema... and the end of two carees ( if not more), but instead it actually ended up being very exciting, well acted, and interesting. Somewhere around... now... in the timeline of this story a construction crew's tagalong boy-child accidentally awakens a sleeping male dragon! Aside from spitting all over everything and murduring Alice "The Borg Queen" Krige, this guy fertilizes enough dragon eggs to cripple the entire world and leave small pockets of humanity much like Battlefield Earth! The film details the expansion of the Dragon hoards wiping out piece by piece of humanity so that within 20 years there's almost nothing left of humanity... and therefore not much left for the Dragons to eat! Sure the whole post-apocalyptic thing has been done, sure so has the whole small pockets of gritty resistance thing... but the Medieval Dragon spin adds some interesting layers to the whole thing.
Christian "American Psycho" Bale portrays Quin, the aforementioned Boy-Child now all grown up and looking like a thin Dan Haggarty. He's the unofficial leader of a small group of humans using religion, fire-safety, and stage re-enacments of The Empire Strikes Back to stay alive and to stay sane. Life seems relatively liveable under the opposable claw of a mythical fire-breather, at least until a group of salad-heads decide to draw attention to the group by harvesting their only crops early, not only drawing forth a female dragon in search of something to burn, but ensuring that next year there won't be any harvest!
Enter a brigade of American National Guard troops from Kentucky led by Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey bald and bearded looking nothing like his usual romantic lead). Although dragons pretty much down every aircraft that takes to the skies, the brigade flies to North England and only then lose their jet. Somehow they make their way straight to Quin's group, and after more than a little Trepidation they all become allies.
Quin finds it hard to trust Van Zan because he claims to have traversed the ocean in a plane through dragon-filled skies (we don't believe him either), and because he claims to have killed dragons. Well the brigade proves out that second one... with heavy human casualties... thus causing the cult of Quin and the Cabal of Van Zan to compare notes, and (possibly) figure a way to retake the planet and not share the same fate as the Dinosaur (who... heh heh heh... went extinct because Dragons cooked them and ate them).
Okay, so there's a little cheese, and a tad... but only a tad of melodrama! The difference between Reign of Fire and any B-Movie you might consider picking up from the Blockbuster 99 cent bin is that Reign of Fire actually gives an ass plunge what it's putting on the screen! Director Rob Bowman (The X-Files: Fight The Future) seems aware that he's walking the razor's edge between Mad Max, and Alien from L.A., and therefore never allows the film to get campy. Likewise Bale brings all the dignity he did to the role of Jesus in the Mary, Mother of Jesus TV Movie. He truly appears to be a sad and tortured soul who wants his world back. Bale shows a decent range too as he goes from silent leader, to action hero, to finally lover. I've never been the world's biggest Christian Bale fan, but he's actually pretty good. You have to give credit to McConaughey who has a comfy niche as the pretty-boy southern boyfriend in every third Hollywood Romantic Comedy. Here he's in good form as a military leader whose about as attractive as John Rhys-Davies' Gimli with a shaven head. McConaughey doesn't seem to give a damn where this fits into his resume, but instead plays the action hero, as well as the thinking-man strategist better than most could. There are one or two Conan-esque screaming moments, and one or two moments where he seems to be relying on the conceit that this is an action film, and must therefore be played as such. All in all though, I have to say that in spite of every possibility of camp and corn, the actors do their best to avoid it and offer up a viable fantasy that shames most forays into the genre.
Three and one half stars for Reign of Fire! It's refreshing to see a risky movie coming off well. There's no precident for this movie, and no movie just like it had come out to pave the way. Kudos to the film makers and the actors, and the Studio for giving this a chance, and for not turning it into another Planet of the Apes Fiasco. It's also refreshing to note that in a post apocalyptic world, when all is lost, most kids won't make it to adulthood and there are giant fire-breathing perdition-spawned reptiles just waiting to use you as a mint... the value of Star Wars is still recognized!