Reign of Fire (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/08/2002

Two out of five stars
Running time: 102 mins

A killer concept, CGI work that’s up to the task and the best poster of the year – so how did it all go so horribly wrong?

If you’ve taken the tube in the last month or so, you’ve probably seen the fabulous poster for Reign of Fire. It features the Houses of Parliament in flames, Independence Day-style.

Above these flaming Houses of Parliament soar hundreds of Mightily Pissed Off Dragons, breathing fire, as is their wont. They are being attacked by a fleet of helicopters. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

There’s just one problem. Not a single element of that poster actually makes it into the finished movie, meaning that a) the poster is A Big Fat Lie, and b) the film is a crushing disappointment.

A Bloody Great Dragon

It starts well enough. While exploring his mother’s (Alice Krige) present-day tunnel-digging site, young schoolboy Quinn inadvertently wakes up A Bloody Great Dragon, which then promptly fries everyone in sight (including Krige, who isn’t in it enough). So far, so good.

Then, unbelievably, we flash forward 20 years and are treated to the frankly patronising sight of the intervening 20 years (in which the dragons spawn and lay waste to the world) being recapped by means of series of wind-blown pages of a charred copy of Time Magazine, with blurry photos of London in flames.

Then some newsreel footage of a poorly photo-shopped Eiffel Tower, also in flames. And that’s it. In other words, dragons get busy destroying the world and we don’t see it happen. At this point, some 15 minutes in, you start to realise that something is very, very wrong.

Edinburgh’s Gone, And Now We’ve Lost Norwich

The story itself concerns a now grown-up Quinn (Christian Bale), the leader of a rag-tag group of survivors (“Edinburgh’s gone, and now we’ve lost Norwich”) who are holed up in ash-strewn Northumberland.

Suddenly, up pops Matthew McConaughey’s bonkers Yankee dragon-slayer Van Zan with a foolproof way to destroy those pesky dragons once and for all. “Aha”, you think, “Mass dragon-slaying action mere moments away”. But no…

One At A Time

There is one terrific shot, late in the film, when the dragon-slayers finally reach London, in which hordes of dragons suddenly take to the air after nesting in the burnt-out Houses of Parliament. This is a jaw-dropping moment, and if a fleet of helicopters had suddenly appeared and battle had commenced, we might have had a great movie on our hands. But no, it turns out that the dragons only attack one at a time. Which is, frankly, rubbish.

It’s hard to know where it all went wrong. Director Rob Bowman has proven sci-fi / action credentials, what with the X-Files movie and his background on the show. The CGI technology can definitely ‘do’ dragons – the dragons themselves are impressive creatures. One can only conclude that the money just wasn’t there. Which is unforgivable, really.

The Zombie Pirate

The actors don’t really help matters. Shaven-headed, tattooed McConaughey in particular looks as if he’s auditioning for a Zombie Pirate movie – his unintelligible growls are the funniest thing in the film. Bale is better, but rather too boringly serious in the role. As for Izabela Scorupco (Goldeneye), she is completely wasted as the crack helicopter pilot (there’s one helicopter) slash-love interest.

The script isn’t much better, though it does manage a superb Star Wars gag that almost makes up for all its inadequacies elsewhere.

Ultimately, Reign of Fire is really only worth watching if you dig a large hole in the ground for your expectations, banish all thoughts of the poster from your head and go in expecting it to be hilariously bad. But those nagging thoughts of what might have been are inevitable. Dare we hope for a sequel in which they get it right?

Film Trailer

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Content updated: 20/10/2017 20:27

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