Having gone to the theater to watch Dragon Wars I figured I should give this one another go-round, as well. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When it came out, Reign of Fire was victimized by its own marketing. As I mentioned in my D-War review, Reign of Fire's trailers and poster suggested extended aerial combat between man and beast. I was expecting some kind of Independence Day with dragons, and that's not what this is. But what this is, when I was expecting it, was pretty darn good.
We open in a construction dig in London, being run by former Borg Queen Alice Krige. She shows her young son the inside of a cave they've discovered, not knowing there's a big honkin' dragon in there. It gets out, killing the Borg Queen in the process and somehow spawning an invasion of the vicious beasts all over the planet. It's revealed that these dragons are an unkown species that have lived on Earth for eons, very occasionally emerging from their dormant state to burn and eat everything. They actually eat ash, and once the planet is all but demolished, the surviving dragons become dormant again.
Twenty years later and it looks like the humans might not last that long. Christain Bale, playing the young boy grown up, leads an enclave of collected survivors in Northern Scotland. In the intervening decades the world has been reduced to an endless landscape of black, blasted wasteland beneath a roiling grey sky. The grownups teach the children a new bedtime prayer, all about watching the skies and your own ass. This society is portrayed with a fair amount of depth and thought, making this a pretty darn good "what would happen if..." kind of movie. One of the most touching scenes is a storytime performance for the kiddies: Christain Bale and his friend simultaneously acting out and telling the story of the White Knight vs. the Black Knight. Look familiar?
It's an utterly charming detail, especially when the kids react to the big reveal, which you know they've heard countless times before.
Don't worry though, it's not about the kids.
The plot kicks in gear when an armored column of Americans show up, led by a musclebound Matthew McConaughey. One of the sentries remarks "Eh, the one thing worse than the dragons. Americans." I felt his pain watching McConaughey's jacked-up posturing. It's not that he does a bad job, but the cigar-chompin', superior macho vibe is assholish to the point of distraction. And in a way the attitude is deserved; his unit has done the unthinkable and worked out a strategy for actually killing the dragons, and they may have a plan to get rid of them for good.
I had a great time watching this again. The special effects are not only realistic but also artfully used. The swift, fierce dragons darken the sky like devils from some Gothic time, with the bleak, monochrome landscape providing the perfect background. The sensation of constant fear is palpable, and while McConaughey's annoying and his girl sidekick unnecessary, you've got Christian Bale to bring it home.