Review: “Reign of Fire”

‘Reign’ is one of those films that sounds like a great two-line concept, but sadly the end result proves to be a rather tepid “Mad Max” clone that’ll delight school boys but not stretch far in terms of appeal beyond that. We’re in a world where dragons have taken over and wiped civilisation off the map – and a handful of survivors decide to take on and stop them by heading to the source and taking out their one weakness.

Now as a genre film fan that immediately means I want to see two things dominate this movie – scenes of our modern day civilisation being destroyed by dragons in a feast of visual FX, and a long and creepy ‘adventure’ as our heroes try to infiltrate the main lair and stop these creatures at the source.

The first never really happens – the environment is already destroyed and looks like your average third world slum. Its only in the interesting if muddily handled pre-credits sequence at the start that we get a hint as to their origins. The second happens so late in the day that your beyond the point of caring which is a good thing as the logic of these scenes is laughable.

Performances are very standard for this type of genre. Bale is about the only character here with even a hint of depth, the gruff but sturdy leader of his community whose trying to do good for everyone. McConaughey on the other hand is all bluff and school bully bluster as the arrogant leader of an American group out to stop them. He’s the kind of guy George Bush’s military would love as a leader – strong, disciplined and determined to carry on to the end.

He’s also got a whole wife beater mentality to him as well – pig-headed, acts before thinking, always wants to dominate and won’t listen to anyone but himself. The actor seems to be having a ball playing him but the character is just such a nasty and over the top piece of work that you hope he gets fried, yet he makes the tortured Bale that much more interesting.

Scorpurro has proven a great talent in the likes of “Goldeneye” but here, despite a nice moment with Bale, is stuck in a very generic female sidekick role whilst Gerard Butler and Alexander Siddig are utterly wasted in bit parts. Both the Brit and Yank accents are on the strong side which makes dialogue from both hard to understand at times, mostly in sequences where they’re shouting at each other whilst there’s lots of background noise.

Rob Bowman, who did a slick job with “The X-Files” movie, proves he’s yet to become a proper film director as not only does the scope feel very limited (almost TV-like) but even at a short 90+ minute runtime the pacing is choppy and there’s no real flow from one moment to the next which gives away the slapdash effort put into creating the script. The genealogy of the beasts is limited to extremely short talks which is a shame as its those kinds of details that we film geeks love and which make the threat more tangible.

The ultimate solution to the problem feels very cliched (a trick that’s been used in “Aliens”, “Star Trek: First Contact”, “Mimic”, and many others before) and scenes which should be brimming with tension are unfortunately just plain flat. Take one scene where after successfully capturing a dragon, the Brits celebrate but McConaughey chides them for their victory – yet there’s no real point to the whole sequence in any case as soon after McConaughey reveals plans he’s had in the works for a long time which render that stunt completely useless.

The dragons are used sparingly, with hardly any screentime (maybe 6-7 minutes max) but when they do appear they have a strong prescence with solid visual FX trickery and some well shot action sequences though none particularly stick in the memory except maybe a tense sky diving scene and the big end fight of course.

You have to admire the filmmakers bold aim with what they were trying to do with the project, but ultimately it fails badly in its execution. It takes itself too seriously to be of camp value, has no central story or compelling characters, no laughs, decent but lacklustre visuals, and an overboiled score.

Most of all though its the lack of focus and direction which ultimately sabotages the one thing that’s most important – audience interest. For pure die-hard genre fans only, and sadly one of the few real potentials of the Summer that proves a major letdown.