Can Humanity Survive a Draconic Reign of Fire?

” Envy the country that has heroes. Pity the country that needs them.” — Denton Van Zan

In a reality just next door to ours, a crew working in the London Underground breached a long-buried cavern, unleashing a horror locked inside for millions of years. This horror, which mankind has never seen, yet has imagined, was a dragon.

This single dragon spawns legions and set about doing what dragons do: burng everything. Within a two decades a combination of rampaging wyrms and ineffective nuclear strikes have reduced most of human civilization to ash. Only a few small communities survive, hidden in dungeons and eeking out an existence by doing what little farming they can.

One such settlement, in England, has the great fortune of having secured an ancient castle as their new homestead. They have managed to create a kind of normalcy, albeit one that lives under the constant threat of the dragons that still occasionally wing overhead. It’s leader, Quinn (Christian Bale), advocates avoiding confrontation with the beasts, because he knows that in the end, humans are doomed to lose. Better to hunker down and live, than to fight and die.

And then a crazy American general named Van Zam (Matthew McConaughey) shows up looking to challenge the status quo. Seems he and his mad band of Yankees have been hunting dragons … and they have a plan that could end the draconic reign once and for all.

A B-Movie with Balls of Steel
When I first saw the trailer for Reign of Fire, my first thought was “Apaches vs. Dragons? Too freaking cool!” And then the mediocre reviews started coming out, and I decided that I could wait to see it on DVD.

The reviews weren’t totally wrong — this movie is far from great, but it is enjoyable primarily because of Matthew McConaughey’s Van Zam. You can tell at an instant that McConaughey took this role because he wanted to chance to play an over-the-top badass, and he does a far better job than I ever expected. He’s got that mad, crazy glint in his eye, the one that says, “yes, I’m insane … but I’ve got a plan!”

The first part of that plan — the slaying of individual dragons — is probably the single best reason to see the movie. It involves a helicopter and a couple of paratroopers. The troopers fly up into the clouds, and then jump, providing any dragons in the area with a tasty target. Then other troopers jump out, nets in hand, and attempt to ensnare the beast. Then the dragon crashes to the ground, and can be killed in a more conventional manner.

It’s exactly the sort of plan that gamers would come up with — utterly nuts, but amazingly effective. And very entertaining.

The movie’s weak point, without a doubt, is its ending. It seems that all of dragon-kind revolves around a single male — every other dragon is female. Van Zam’s plan is to kill the patriarch, and then watch as the dragon’s dominance falls apart.

Considering the dragons have achieved world-wide dominance, ruling every continent on the planet, it’s a little hard to believe that they’d only have one male. Maybe one per continent, or one per geographic area, but one per planet? That’s just a stupid.

Even worse, after the alpha male is killed, all of the dragons suddenly die off (or at least, die off within a year or so). We’re left with a happy ending, with a reforested world, and smiling survivors looking at dragon-free skies.

I’m all for happy endings, but this just doesn’t work for me — there should have been mop up operations to kill the remaining dragons (difficult given that there are so few humans left). And based on everything else in the movie, that should have taken decades, not months. And, of course, this set-ups the dreaded Highlander problem — by killing off every dragon, you’ve also slain much of the potential for sequels. The flaw is glaring, and costs the film two points in my rating. It turns it form a solid B movie into a shaky one.

Philosophically, I enjoyed the debates between the conservative Quinn and the risk-taking Van Zam. Of the two it’s Van Zam who truly understands what it means to live — while Quinn and his people may be able to subsist in hiding for years, they would not truly be living until the tyranny of the dragons was overthrown. Van Zam’s the one who sees that if humanity is to have a chance, it must confront the dragons directly — hiding will only delay extinction, not prevent it.

Final Analysis

Plot problems aside, Reign of Fire is a fun movie, especially for gamers (who inevitably have spent hours debating exactly how to slay dragons).

Product Details

  • Reign of Fire
  • Director: Rob Bowman
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale
  • Buena Vista Home Video
  • Format: DVD
  • MSRP: $29.99
  • Rating: R
  • Buy it from Amazon
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