Twenty years later the world is a giant mess. Nothing we humans did could stop those pesky dragons and now they've eaten just about everything there is. In other words the dragons are starving--and desperate. Quinn (Christian Bale) has grown up to become the fire chief and leader of a small community of survivors living in an abandoned castle outside of London. He and right-hand man Creedy (Gerard Butler) keep the peace as they hunker down trying to outlast the dragons. But the hungry dragons attack often and the survivor numbers are dwindling. In comes the cavalry in the form of hotshot American Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and his small band of soldiers including helicopter pilot Alex (Izabella Scorupco) looking for reinforcements. Seems Van Zan can slay the beasts in a way Quinn has never seen before and has a plan to hunt down the sole male dragon that Quinn woke up years before. Killing it will stop the dragons from populating--forever. This is when the story gets interesting as the two leaders butt heads literally and figuratively. Quinn believes Van Zan's plan is a suicide mission and won't risk his men while Van Zan is too full of himself to realize the inherent dangers. Still the two must somehow come together to make the plan work--it is the only way to save mankind.
McConaughey and Bale make a formidable pair in Reign of Fire especially the buff bald and bearded McConaughey. He is full of quiet bravado as Van Zan and shows us some of those acting skills we all know he possesses. McConaughey has a particularly powerful moment when Van Zan chastises a group of survivors celebrating the slaying of one dragon. He tells the crowd he lost three men while killing the beast and doesn't think drinking and dancing are in order. It's a good scene reminiscent of his courtroom summation in A Time to Kill. The film however really belongs to Bale who is also bearded but not nearly as buff and certainly more soulful than his counterpart. The guilt courses through Quinn as he tries to justify why he won't allow anyone under his charge to go out and fight back. His motivation is understandable but when Quinn realizes he has to go above and beyond to save mankind Bale measures up. For an action-hero role Bale plays it refreshingly intellectual. Butler is also quite good as Quinn's best friend Creedy adding a light touch to the otherwise dark story. Scorupco is a tough chick but doesn't get a lot to work with unlike her male co-stars.
Emmy-winning television director Rob Bowman (The X-Files) chooses as his first foray into feature films this apocalyptic story in which dragons have taken over the world--and has decided to concentrate more on the story than the special effects. OK that's admirable but darn it the movie poster for Reign of Fire shows us the money shot: dragons annihilating London with Black Hawk helicopters buzzing around trying to stop them. And unfortunately that is not in the movie. Sure the story is compelling. The conflict between Van Zan and Quinn is a classic tete-a-tete in which each has to experience great loss before they can come together to fight as one. It works mostly although it drags a little in the middle. The climactic ending didn't pay off nearly as well as it could have either. Still the movie leaves you sort of wishing for one of those Independence Day scenes where there are thousands of dragons fighting us wee humans. What Reign of Fire does instead is deal with only a few dragons at a time and the special effects do not disappoint. One of the better scenes is when we see exactly how Van Zan and his team manage to kill one of the dragons using human parachutists as bait. Also seeing the big bad male dragon attacking the castle is spectacular. It's a thrill ride for sure if only it had just a little more thrill and less exposition.