Reign of Fire

A postapocalyptic fantasy that, in some ways, recalls the Jurassic Park movies describes Reign of Fire in a nutshell — or a dragon’s eggshell.

Jurassic Park (1993) was sparked as much by fears of scientific research as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, written more than 150 years earlier. Spielberg’s heated, science-fiction thrill ride may have been fired by a thought or two about the scientific ethics of that postmodern Prometheus, genetic engineering. But Reign of Fire arises from the ever-smoldering ashes of dragon-slaying myths. Director Rob Bowman (The X Files) blows them into a glowing nightmare periodically hidden under a bushel of pseudo-science and modern technology.

The metal teeth of large tunneling machines chew bowels beneath London, England, opening an ancient Pandora’s box stuffed with fire-breathing dragons. Somehow these leviathans dominate the Earth, impossibly whipping across the sky on batlike wings. Glands in their mouths produce two secretions, flammable when mixed. They feed on the ash of their prey.

Quinn (Christian Bale) witnessed the first, the dragon king, as a child. Now he’s become the latter-day King Arthur of Northumberland, England’s few survivors galloping to the chivalrous rescue on his steed.

When Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) rolls up to Quinn’s castle in the lead tank of his Kentucky militia of dragon slayers, Quinn and his people witness that helicopter support and a few fearless paratroopers can bring the beasts down. Van Zan’s presence raises a crucial question: Do the Englishmen hold their line of uncertain survival or do they join the Americans in what seems like a suicide mission against the dragon king?

Bowman serves up his tale with liberal squirts of combustible adrenaline setting it off as a monster-movie flambé. He plays a big-budget cinematic version of that infant feeding trick, “airplane and hanger.” As long as he dazzles with adventurous marvels, you might just stretch open your suspension of disbelief. With more than a spoonful of the caramelized visual sugar that gave his “X Files” episodes their dark glaze, this flick is a tasty treat. But as the credits roll and the heat dies down, you might find the whole thing a little hard to swallow.

The dragon-slaying myth is mostly just a flavor here, with the little surviving human nutrition principally provided by the well-fleshed performances of Bale and McConaughey. Like the Red Hots candy on display at the cineplex’s concession stand, Reign of Fire burns mostly on empty calories.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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