Directed by Rob Bowman. USA. 2002.

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It’s a well known fact among my friends that although I may be fearless when it comes to certain things (like riding my teeny brained, speed of light horse across hither and also yon) when it comes to a) spiders and b) creature movies I am a gianormous wimp. The only thing that got me through the theater door for Reign of Fire was the fact that it was about dragons, not insects, Rob Bowman (X-Files: Fight the Future) was directing, and that Matthew McConaughey seemed to spend a great deal of time displaying his muscles. I thought I would be OK. After all, dragons aren’t flapping about anywhere right now, so I thought the dismay factor would be slim to none. Little did I realize that Anthony Hopkins was lurking in the trailers waiting to scare me to death.

Reign of Fire. All Rights Reserved.The idea of watching dragons demonstrate their new landscaping plans for earth (basic ash black) may not frighten you, but the trailer for Red Dragon that comes before the movie is enough to petrify even the most stoic of slasher film veterans. I love Sir Anthony “Homicidal Loon” Hopkins dearly, but if I ever run into him on the street, I’m going to flee cartoon style in the opposite direction until I manage to put several time zones between us. How that man ever chances to leave his house without having droves of people passing out in terror upon spotting him I really don’t know.

Reign of Fire, completely defying my less than stellar expectations, is one of the most fun movies I’ve seen so far this summer. Set in 2020, the earth has become a ruin, having been ravaged by dragons. Human survivors are few and far between, and those who have managed to elude the winged creatures are in hiding. It is in one of the last remaining outposts that we find the two unlikely heroes of the story; Quinn, the group's fire chief, and Van Zan, the dragon slayer to lead them into battle.

Christian Bale (American Psycho, Swing Kids) stars as the aloof leader, Quinn. Bale spends his on screen time (quite unlike his fluffy summer movie counterparts) taking his role seriously, which definitely helps the audience to do the same. Though at times his role does take a leap into the realm of silliness, the good far outweighs the bad. Bale’s eyes are absolutely haunted in spots, and his incarnation of the tortured young boy who first saw the beasts that would bring about the end of the world who grows into the peaceful leader is affable, intelligent and strong. I am quite impressed by his ability to a) sit on a horse, and b) pour half a bottle of iodine into an open wound without his head exploding.

Matthew McConaughey (A Time to Kill, Dazed and Confused) stars as dragon slayer Van Zan (aka Commander Fruit Loop) and has totally sunk his teeth into this larger than life role. McConaughey plays Van Zan as a slightly more psychotic version of R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) His mood swings make for a slightly cartoonish character, but he’s so much fun to watch that you never really mind. If Bale’s Quinn could be imagined running through Dragonheart, McConaughey’s Van Zan is the Mad Max element to the story. His grittiness, and energies are perfect summer movie fare.

Reign of Fire. All Rights Reserved.Though Reign of Fire does offer its share of incredibly predictable moments (i.e. the cannon-fodder scene where a group of men decide to go spelunking down a tunnel that a little boy has just come careening out of, bleeding out his eyes, screaming that “there’s something down there!!”) it does show a remarkable amount of stylish smarts. Everything from the dragon ravaged London, to my amusement at realizing that once again, though the rest of the world may be destroyed by fanciful creatures Canada has been left alone (like in ID4) adds to the bite of this film.

It’s usually the case that I am the absolute worst person to have with you when watching a creature movie of any kind. Outside the theatre, I am completely hip, inside a shrieking ninny, watching from behind my hands. I find most of these movies to be frightening beyond belief. Reign of Fire doesn’t fall into that type of movie though, being all about the people, the survivor’s spirits, rather than displaying how many humans a dragon can consume in 90 minutes. Rob Bowman has done a great job here, refusing to let this fantastic tale be overwhelmed by the heat of the beasts contained within it’s borders. A must see.

Jen Johnston
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