‘Only one thing worse than a dragon… Americans!’ mutters Gerry Butler to Christian Bale as Matthew McConaughey looks on; one thing you can’t fault Rob Bowman’s fantasy epic for is star power. It’s something of a coup to capture one major star on their way up; Reign of Fire has three, plus plenty of other recognisable faces, from Alice Krige to Izabella Scotupco to Alexander Siddig, plus bags of action, great physical effects, and an original concept. So why isn’t Reign of Fire a bigger deal?
Set in the futuristic year of 2020, things have gone downhill fast. People live in the dust, huddled in shattered enclaves, casting their minds back to happier times, and in particular the first Star Wars trilogy; Quinn (Bale) and Creedy (Butler) stage scenes from the George Lucas films to entertain the little ones, who gather under their protection to escape the attentions of fire-breathing dragons which rule the skies above the desolate English countryside. Into the mix comes US import Denton Van Zan (McConaughey) who has a brutal plan to take on the beasts, but disagreement breaks out on tactics; Dragon Battle Strategy Disagreement would be a more accurate title for this film.
‘Look out that window, Eden isn’t burning, it’s burnt…’ snarls Denton, but that’s just one example of the oodles of over-the-top tough-guy dialogue captured here. With these three stars, everything is conducted in a low, base grumble, and if you like macho posturing, look no further. The CGI of 2002 isn’t quite fit-for-purpose to render hot dragon action, although there’s more than a few great shots, and the physical effects, with tanks, helicopters and fireballs centre stage, are more than up to stuff; the UK’s Artem effects team contributed the impressive dead dragon sighted here.
What more do you want from a Saturday night movie? A Jimi Hendrix track? Castles aflame, impossible leaps and jumps, some neat satirical touches and an international message of US/UK co-operation? Take the lot, and rent Reign of Fire. While none of the cast will have this film at the top of their CV, they all give solid, committed performances that make Reign of Fire something of a treat. And with call-backs to Arthurian legend, there’s also a few cool sci-fi concepts to conjure with; if anyone asks me what 2020 looked like, I’d be happy to send them in the direction of the international carnage and balls-to-the-wall heroism featured in Reign of Fire.