from Film Forum, 01/31/02
Reign of Fire is a fantasy wildcard. It's a tale about dragonslayers striking back at dragons that have laid waste to the world. Slayers are played by Christian Bale (American Psycho, Empire of the Sun) and Matthew McConaughey (A Time to Kill, The Newton Boys.) Rob Bowman, who did admirable work with The X-Files: Fight the Future, directs.from Film Forum, 07/11/02
Many fans of Tolkien, Lewis, and other fantasy literature writers have long desired to see a great movie made about dragons. Some were happy with the whimsical Dragonheart, in which Dennis Quaid played a warrior who befriends a temperamental dragon (voiced by Sean Connery). But others argued that the film was too sentimental, and the dragon too comical.
Few will be making that argument about Reign of Fire, in which fire-breathing monsters are awakened beneath present-day London. They take to the air and conquer the world, swooping down on major cities everywhere in vast numbers, burning everything in sight.
Director Rob Bowman (The X-Files) wisely keeps the dragons hidden in fog, shadow, and smoke for most of the film, developing suspense much the way Spielberg did in Jaws. Along the way, he serves up many macho confrontations, an anti-dragon skydiving mission, and some truly spectacular moments that should satisfy fans of dragon lore.
Unfortunately, we are also treated to the most ludicrous plot-resolution logic to come along in a while. Over-the-top performances from Christian Bale (Empire of the Sun, American Psycho) and Matthew McConaughey (EdTV, A Time to Kill) lend an urgency to the material that is so compelling, it just might distract audiences from the fact that the story is full of holes big enough for a dragon to crawl through.
Bale plays Quinn, a brawny Brit helping a group of survivors struggle through a world of smoking ruin. (You'll be convinced that they've set up shop in one of the sets from The Road Warrior—they have all of the ramshackle vehicles and artillery that they need.) Bale spends his time defending his castle against dragon assaults and providing guidance to the many fearful children in his network of caves. We also see him leading them in "prayers." But these prayers have nothing to do with a deity. They are instead merely ritual chants of the rules for surviving a dragon attack. In fact, the film's lack of any single reference to spirituality or the need for divine guidance is startling. You would think that these people, beaten down, losing strength and resources, might search for help from a higher plane. Nope.
The only help that comes arrives in the form of war-hardened American warriors who claim to be dragonslayers. They are led by a brute named Van Zan (McConaughey), who looks like he has been preparing for Fight Club 2 by running around in war-torn Afghanistan. Bald, bearded, muscle-bound, and tattoo-clad, he rants in a raspy voice that will convince you he gets up in the morning and eats a heaping bowl of ash. Van Zan and Quinn grapple for control of the survivors until they learn the hard way that they must put aside their pride and work together against the fiery foes.
If you're planning to see Reign of Fire this weekend, brace yourself for a relentlessly violent, melodramatic, and illogical adventure. There's plenty to entertain and amuse, but not to analyze. The dragons could have suggested the various forms of plague and destruction humankind has unleashed on the world, like the dinos in Jurassic Park, but the film does not explore this possibility seriously. When something goes right for the heroes, do they find any spiritual insight in the experience? No. They just smile and exclaim, "Here's to evolution!" How is that comforting?from Film Forum, 07/18/02
If you believe critics of Rob Bowman's action-packed adventure film Reign of Fire, it sounds like the heroes spend most of their time running from dragons and stumbling blindly into massive plot holes. Film Forum summarized the film and a few early responses last week. This week, religious press critics delivered their reviews.
The U.S.C.C.B.'s reviewer calls it "convoluted and chaotic. The bottom line is that with cardboard characters and a story line that doesn't work hard to engage the audience, Reign of Fire is an empty spectacle. At one point, a character concludes, 'We have paid a terrible price.' So will moviegoers if they bother with this preposterous movie." Phil Boatwright agrees that it is "a muddled mess both in story and dialogue."
Paul Bicking (Preview) weighs the pros and cons and concludes, "Several tense scenes may upset children under ten and strong profanity drags down the Reign Of Fire."
Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) says, "Reign of Fire begins promisingly. However, its inventiveness evaporates into a series of steely glares between alpha males, and absurd offensives against a winged foe that has no business losing to these guys." Yet, Smithouser is surprised at the film's restraint in its portrayal of violence. "What's shocking is how much the filmmakers chose not to show. That restraint may frustrate viewers hungry for gory details, but families can take heart in knowing that not everyone in Hollywood is out to beat the system."
Separating himself from the nay-sayers, Eric Rice (Movieguide) says, "Despite some strong profanities, a harsh humanist worldview and plenty of man versus dragon violence, this movie is a relatively harmless, wild, entertaining adventure story."
Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "Despite the plot holes and lack of better dialogue between characters, I still enjoyed this movie because of the unusual premise, incredible special effects, and Matthew McConaughey, who makes a great action hero."
Michael Elliott's review notes symbolism instead of script problems: "Paratroopers who do battle against the dragons are called 'archangels'; graffiti on an exit sign near the dragon's lair indicates '666'. The references should come as no surprise. Dragons have long been associated with the devil. By comparing the dragons' behavior in this film with what we know of the nature of our spiritual adversary, we can draw many parallels. The dragons feed on death or ashes—the devil holds the power of death. Both the dragons and the devil instill fear into the hearts of their victims."
Meanwhile, mainstream critics lined up to point out things that confound the intellect. Andrew O'Hehir (Salon.com) says, "There's really nothing wrong with the premise of Reign of Fire, as ludicrous science-fiction premises go, but director Rob Bowman … does almost everything he can to ruin it." He concludes, "A monster movie with boring monsters is a boring monster movie."
Roger Ebert counts up implausibilities and plot problems.
MaryAnn Johanson argues that the film is too focused on practical solutions, without enough exploration of virtue and spirituality. "Reign of Fire could have stirred the soul. There's a lot of power here—firepower, that is—and not enough Force."from Film Forum, 07/25/02
The fire-breathing four-legged freaks of Reign of Fire, heavily ridiculed by critics in the past couple of weeks, have found a half-hearted defender in Peter T. Chattaway (Vancouver Courier). "It falls back on hokey storytelling gimmicks," he agrees, "but it's an entertaining ride while it lasts. For those who have a taste for this sort of thing, the brawny, testosterone-pumped battle of wills between [Christian] Bale and [Matthew] McConaughey is just one more reason Reign of Fire ranks as one of the summer's true guilty pleasures." (I agree with Chattaway's assessment. The film could have been much better, but I won't soon forget the over-the-top antics of its enthusiastic cast.)