A tradition seems to have developed in the summer movie season: The big films are released in May or June, and July is for the “second string.”
Last year, no one in Hollywood thought “Jurassic Park 3” or even the remake of “Planet of the Apes” was up to the task of taking on “Shrek,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Mummy Returns” or Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” So “Park” and “Apes” were slotted for July, in the hopes that some of the enthusiasm for these other films would have waned. In a sense it worked because both films did really well in July.
The producers of “Reign of Fire” knew they did not have a film which could compete with “Star Wars,” “Spider-Man” or even “Scooby-Doo.” So they waited, hoping their little film would make a splash, or perhaps start a blaze in the middle month of the summer season.
“Reign of Fire” will probably make a fair amount at the box office, as most of the true action films of the summer have peaked. But just because it makes money doesn’t mean it’s a worthy film.
“Reign of Fire”is an apocalyptic film set in the near future, after dragons have taken over the world and killed almost all humans. As wild as this idea sounds, the film makes as much or more sense than that apocalyptic film and video from last year called “Left Behind.”
“Fire” also boasts much better production values than that film, even if it is not based on a best-selling Christian novel. The special effects in “Fire” are more realistic, and quite good in several sequences. The writing is superior, though far from outstanding, and the performances are much more believable.
Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale have a lot of fun hamming up this material, and they certainly act like they believe in dragons more than Kirk Cameron seemed to believe in the Rapture. Then again, being a better film than “Left Behind” is not exactly a high benchmark for which to strive.
The problem with “Fire,” though, is not really how it was made, but rather why it was made. This is not an interesting story. At the beginning, when the film seems focused on the community of survivors and shows elements of their daily routine, this is inspired filmmaking. Had the screenplay focused on that, it could have worked, but no studio would have wanted to produce it.
On the other hand, once dragon-fighting soldiers visit the community, and it becomes the summer action flick the previews offered, the film becomes a logistical mess. How can there be only one male dragon? When the male was unearthed, where did all the females come from? How intelligent are these creatures? How many dragons did it take to kill six billion people?
These are just a few of the questions never fully explained and often totally ignored. When one is watching an action film trying to clarify the logic of the story, the movie has ceased to work.
If a “popcorn movie” is defined as a movie that is appealing only because it achieves its goal of escapist entertainment without insulting the viewer’s intelligence to the point of distraction, then “Reign of Fire” does not quite reach the mark of a good popcorn flick.
On the other hand, if one has seen all the bigger, better action films of the summer and is looking for something different—and doesn’t think too much about what is happening on screen—”Reign of Fire” might be satisfying.
Roger Thomas is pastor of NortheastBaptistChurch in Atlanta.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action violence
Director: Rob Bowman
Writers: Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg
Cast: Van Zan: Matthew McConaughey; Quinn: Christian Bale; Alex: Izabella Scorupco; Creedy: Gerard Butler