Reign of Fire

Year: 2002
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Rob Bowman
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco
One of the best ideas for an action adventure movie for ages. And executed with a clear vision, great effects, characters, acting and plotting away from the grain.

Somewhere in history, ancient man forgot that dragons were real. They existed before the dinosaurs, starved when they destroyed most life, and went into hibernation deep in the Earth. In modern day London a young boy visits his construction worker mother at a tube tunnel being built, and unwittingly awakens the first of the dragons again.

Years later, the boy (Quinn, played with passionate melancholy by Christian Bale) is leading a ragtag band of survivors in a Northumberland castle. The millions of dragons that awoke have destroyed most of humanity and civilisation - pockets of survivors, cut off from each other, spend their days eking out a terrified existence ever watchful of the sky.

When a group of reformed American soldiers show up for rest and refuelling (complete with a chopper, tanks and heavy artillery), the settlement is thrown into disarray and Quinn's leadership challenged as their charismatic leader Van Zan (McConaughey, doing a very good brooding tough guy) asks for help going to London. After years of professional dragon slaying, they've discovered there's only one male, and if they can kill it, the race will die out.

You expect the whole lot to march down to London with weapons blazing, and that they don't is both a disappointment and a nice surprise. It would have made for a truly awesome battle sequence, but it also threw the plot somewhere you never expected.

Looking like the stick in the mud for staying to protect his people, Quinn becomes vindicated when the remnants of Van Zan's men return after the male has tricked and incinerated most of them having never reached the capital. Quinn then leads the trio (himself, Van Zan and chopper pilot Alex) to London to fight the male.

It could have been ridiculous or funny without close concentration on the setup, performances and dialogue, but held strong in so many areas where it could have fallen down badly.

Both lead characters were fully three-dimensional. Van Zan shows more intelligence and feeling than a cartoon John Wayne/Rambo, and Quinn shows more sensitivity than any recent adventure movie hero by (very unsexily) putting on plays to entertain the group and leading the children in prayer. The accents and speech particular to England are genuine (a rarity for an American movie).

It also concentrated neither too much nor too little on the destruction of the world itself. The story wasn't about that, but it would have been a letdown not to see some of it, which was covered in the opening credits and a montage sequence of Quinn looking through old TIME magazines (being a Warner Bros film).

The dragon catching airdrop sequence is a thrill every split second and the sight of a ruined London with dragons wheeling overhead like giant pigeons lives alongside the great adventure movie money shots. It shows a great looking world, ashen and grey after years of assault by fire and ruin.

Near perfect in every respect.

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