The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Reign of Fire

Usually post-apocalyptic movies like to throw some natural calamity at us. If it's not nature -- an epic tsunami, a world-ending storm -- then it is something man-made. How about something else though, something different? How about dragons? Yeah, I thought it sounded kind of silly too. I never consciously avoided 2002's Reign of Fire, but I never actively sought it out until recently. While reviews and ratings are mixed, I liked it.

It is 2020 in the countryside outside of London, and a man named Quinn (Christian Bale) is leading a small group of survivors in the ruins of a castle. For some 20 years, immense, destructive dragons have been wreaking havoc all over the Earth, and now the few remaining people have been forced to band together to survive. Hoping to defeat or at least outlast the dragons, Quinn and his group are surprised one day to see an armored convoy approach their gates. Leading this American contingent is Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), an obsessed dragon slayer hell bent on wiping out the dragons. The two men differ on what to do. Quinn wants to survive, Van Zan wants to go on the hunt. The right answer? Somewhere in between, forcing the men to work together.

Maybe the biggest reason I never sought this flick out was that the premise just sounded too silly. Dragons wiping out mankind? Desperate, poorly-supplied survivors trying to fight back? I don't know. Maybe I was thinking of Pete the Magic Dragon from growing up, but it didn't sound too appealing. Well, I was wrong. I liked it (didn't love it) because director Rob Bowman keeps it serious. If anything, even a little humor -- dark though it may have been -- would have aided the cause. But as is, it's an end of the world story. The backstory with the dragons is actually pretty cool, the creatures periodically coming from the depths of the Earth to ravage the planet, then retire back to deep, cavernous cavities. It isn't anything ground-breaking, but it's better than what I expected.

Playing the two leads, Bale and McConaughey provide an interesting Odd Couple at the forefront of the movie. A pre-Batman Bale is the more sympathetic (if not more interesting) of the two; a grown man trying to help other survivors keep living one more day. As a boy, he saw his mother killed when the first dragon escapes from under London. He's spent the rest of his life trying to right that wrong. The scene-stealing, more showy part goes to McConaughey as Van Zan, an American military officer obsessed with defeating dragons. His look alone -- Mad Max meets Neo-Nazi -- with a shaved head, heavy native tattoos on his arms, sleeveless bomber jacket, wicked goatee, and big old biceps is enough for a badass, but I thought McConaughey does a fine job with the character. He sneers and growls, giving Van Zan quite that dramatic edge.

Also look for a pre-300 Gerard Butler as Creedy, Quinn's long-time friend and right hand man, Izabella Scorupco as Alex, Van Zan's highly trained and effective helicopter pilot, Scott Moutter as Jared, a teenager Quinn saved as a young boy, and David Kennedy, Alexander Siddig and Ned Dennehy as three of Quinn's men who help him combat the dragon attacks.   

Post-apocalyptic. That must mean the world looks pretty dreary, right? The look of the movie certainly reflects that sentiment. It's a dreary, dark, cloudy world without sun after years of fire have ravaged the Earth. 'Reign' was filmed in Ireland and down to the sets and costumes, it looks like a modern Middle Aged story developing. The musical score from composers Ed Shearmur and Brad Wagner is good in that epic Hans Zimmer vein as well.

So how do you combat fire-breathing dragons? Well, you don't really, and if you sure ain't easy. 'Reign' has some fun with that issue as Quinn and his survivors basically hide when a dragon appears, but when Van Zan's heavily armed crew arrives, we're in for a treat. His attack on a raiding dragon is a high point of the movie featuring a complicated, suicidal plan. The action overall is the best part of the movie, and the finale in a desolated, demolished London is surprisingly cool too. Does this one deserve the rating I'm going to give it? Maybe not, but I liked it just the same. Entertaining, exciting rainy day type of movie that's good with a bucket of popcorn.

Reign of Fire <---trailer (2002): ***/****

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