Disney has taken an unfortunate approach with the marketing of "Reign Of Fire". The trailers, which appear rather cheesy and even give the wrong date the film takes place (many of the trailers say 2084, when everything in the film states 2022), give no indication of how tense, exciting and downright amazing a film that "X-Files" director Rob Bowman has brought together.
The film opens in present-day London with Quinn visiting his mother, a worker in the London underground. Accidentally, the tunnel workers burrow into a "void", an empty cave-like space. One of the other workers asks Quinn to venture inside. When Quinn touches the walls of the interior, they are far more alive than they appear. Soon after, a pool of fire appears in the middle of the cave and a deep, terrifying rumble ensues. One giant, previously sound asleep dragon rips through the cave and out through the opening, into the daylight.
20 years later, there is not one dragon - there are millions of the creatures. The Earth has been burned and only a few survivors hide out in various places around the world. The leaders of the world decided to use nuclear weapons, which may have killed some of the dragons, but for every one that was killed, several rose up to take its place. One of these groups is lead by Quinn, and survive in an abandoned castle in the British countryside. In a hilarious sequence (the film is sharply and surprisingly funny at several points), Quinn and a second-in-command act out a scene from "Star Wars" for a group of fascinated youngsters in the camp.
Things are still tense, though; the dragons sweep in every-so-often, seeking food. The appearance of the dragons in the film is nicely spaced out and handled, with Bowman treating them in a "Jaws" fashion, really quieting things down and pulling up the tension before the beasts attack. The first major attack viewed by the audience, which takes place in a field near the compound, was so impressive and shocking that my jaw dropped.
About halfway through the picture, the camp is visited by a group of American soldiers, which are lead by Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), who looks and, by all appearances, is borderline insane. Still, he proves that he has, in fact, taken down the creatures in the past and even proves how, in a remarkable skydiving sequence, a little of which has been shown in the ads.
Eventually, the entire group does begin to figure out a way to possibly stop the dragons - but it definitely won't be easy. The dragons themselves are very well-rendered CGI creatures that appear very convincing and very threatening. Although there are some scenes that are legitimately in darkness, the dragons appear mostly in the daytime and are not masked by anything like fog or rain, like "Godzilla".
What makes "Reign Of Fire" so terrific is not just the dragon sequences, which are scary and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, but the screenplay and performances. While nothing that's going to be award-winning, the script really does fill out the characters far better than this kind of film usually does. By early on, I cared about the characters and really wanted them to triumph instead of being dragon food. The characters and setting, all of which have a bit of a "Mad Max" feel, are very rough and intense. Stars Matthew McConaughey (Van Zan) and Christian Bale (the adult Quinn) have really buffed up, especially McConaughey, who looks like a human tank in this picture. They have to act convincingly very tough and a bad screenplay would have made their efforts look rather cartoonish; thankfully, the material is good and their energetic and strong performances are even better as a result.
Technical credits are excellent. As previously mentioned, the CGI dragons are fantastic - who knows what "dragons" would really do, but these moved through the air with impressive swiftness, looked sleek and intimidiating and were certainly an advancement over the dragon in Rob Cohen's 1995 "Dragonheart" (thankfully the dragons here don't talk, only roar). Cinematographer Adrian Biddle (the "Mummy" features) also gives the movie a bleak, interesting appearance, with solid compositions. The film also boasts a very good score from Ed Shearmur and excellent editing from Thom Noble ("Vertical Limit").
Bowman, cast and crew have really created one of the best "Summer action" movies that I've seen in the past few years. "Reign Of Fire" is thrilling, fun and well-acted. Look past the trailers and just go; it's an intense rush of a film and really great entertainment.