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Reign of Fire (July 11/02)

It's been a while since we've had a film featuring a post-apocalyptic world, and Reign of Fire certainly delivers on that level. With cities reduced to rubble and virtually every character covered in neverending grime, the movie certainly feels like an accurate depiction of our planet in chaos. But without a compelling storyline or characters worth rooting for, the film becomes a barely engaging action/adventure romp.

In a quick prologue, we learn that in the year 2000, fire-breathing dragons that had been lying dormant since the Ice Age were awoken by British steel miners. It didn't take long for the dragons to essentially set the entire world on fire, leaving few survivors. Those who did manage to escape the dragon siege banded together and created small communities, and the film follows the exploits of one such group. Lead by the charismatic Quinn (Christian Bale), this community lives in an old castle and is armed to the teeth in case of a possible dragon attack. But their routine is disrupted by the arrival of Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and his small army of soldiers. Van Zan claims to be from America and also boasts of having killed many dragons (he even wears a dragon tooth around his neck). Quinn soon learns that Van Zan knows more than he initially offers, and just might have a way to end the reign of fire sooner rather than later.

Reign of Fire is pretty much a complete cliche of what we've come to expect from a summer movie; it's loud, action-packed, and doesn't offer much in the way of character development or plot. But director Rob Bowman (the X-Files movie) keeps the pace quick and certainly has quite a flair for style. And though they're not given much to work with, the two stars sure put a lot of enthusiasm into their thinly-written characters. McConaughey, in particular, seems to be having a blast as Van Zan. With his head shaven, body covered in tattoos, and never without a cigar stub between his lips, McConaughey goes for broke and turns this guy into an amalgam of every hard-nosed soldier previously committed to celluloid. Far more restrained is Bale as Quinn, who was a boy when the dragons first began attacking (and indeed, his mother was one of the first victims). As the leader of this makeshift community, Bale works hard to create an actual character instead of an archetype like McConaughey and to a certain extent, he succeeds. Among the supporting cast, nobody really makes any kind of an impact - though Gerard Butler does a decent job as the comic relief sidekick to Quinn (and that's saying something, considering how awful he was as the title character in Dracula 2000).

But what everyone really wants to know about Reign of Fire is, what are the dragons like and do they eat a lot of people? Answer: They're pretty cool and no, not really. Because we have no reasonable expectations of what dragons are supposed to look like, the computer animation team responsible for creating them essentially had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. And they've certainly succeeded, because these dragons are sleek and scary, and entirely believable. But the film's downfall comes in the lack of violence, most likely because Bowman and co. were asked to deliver a PG-13 rating. A movie like this, which doesn't exactly contain an enthralling story, should at least present us with unnecessary sequences of dragons eating people. But Reign of Fire contains few such scenes, and even when that does happens, it's often obscured by darkness and quick editing.

Still, the movie is basically entertaining so long as you accept it for what it is: A silly and forgettable adventure flick.

out of