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Reign of Fire (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailers; 'Breathing Life Into The Terror' making-of featurette; 'If You Can't Stand the Heat' pyrotechnics featurette; Conversations with director Rob Bowman.

FROM its wonderful poster, featuring fire-breathing dragons fighting helicopters above the Houses of Parliament in London, you would have every right to expect Reign of Fire to deliver one of the most spectacular blockbusters of the year.

Sadly, you would be wrong. The scene in question, as appetising as it looks, never actually features in the movie, save for making a brief cameo in a newspaper clipping during the opening titles sequence.

What remains, however, is a braindead, but hopelessly enjoyable crowd-pleaser from X-Files: The Movie director Rob Bowman, which seldom reaches the heights expected from its teaser poster.

Reign of Fire begins in present-day London, when a 12-year-old boy, named Quinn, inadvertently wakes an enormous fire-breathing dragon from its centuries-long slumber in the Underground. It then skips forward, 20 years later, to find the dragon and its offspring in control of the planet, with the small pockets of surviving humans forced to exist in small communities, ever-mindful of the threat from above.

One such community is held together by Christian Bale’s earnest fire chief, Quinn, still coming to terms with the consequences of his actions and struggling to maintain unity, until the arrival of Matthew McConaughey’s gruff American, Van Zan, who is determined to kill the beasts.

What follows is a battle of wits, as McConaughey bids to find and destroy the bull which Quinn discovered while trying to earn the support and respect of his British counterpart.

For the most part, Reign of Fire is good, harmless fun, featuring some stellar performances from its engaging leads and some nifty dragon sequences - including a pulsating mid-air chase in which three skydivers and one helicopter go head to head with a dragon above the English countryside.

Bale makes a suitably vexed hero, while McConaughey’s beefed-up American dragonslayer provides an equally well-realised foil - his arrival, straddling the gun of a massive tank, is a suitably OTT introduction to his equally OTT character, while his big fight scene with Bale features one of the best (and, apparently, real) headbutts in recent screen memory.

But while Bowman deserves praise for the look of the film (the final scenes, in a scorched capital are particularly effective) and for the way in which he seldom makes proceedings seem too preposterous, you can’t help but feeling he has missed at least one trick with the dragons.

As impressive as they are when they do appear, there is no sense of fear or menace about them, which makes Reign of Fire a far more relaxed experience than it really ought to be. All the best monster movies - from Jaws through to Jurassic Park - feature sequences of nerve-shredding tension which help to rate them so highly; yet Bowman’s creations fail to conjure the necessary screen presence.

Not so much a summer scorcher, then, but a hot ticket that remains boisterously good fun for the undemanding multiplex-goers.

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