Only one species is getting out of this alive.
So writes one of the few surviving humans after a worldwide dragon apocalypse in the 2002 film Reign of Fire. The movie may just be another cheap fantasy/action movie without too much going for it (unless you get as much of a kick out of Matthew McConaughey playing a mean, bald Marine as I do), but there are elements that make this movie worth pulling out as “junk food” once in a while.
Having clashing protagonists is a common enough story device, but Reign of Fire did well in showing two very different sides of the leadership coin.
Quinn (played by Christian Bale) is the leader of a group of Brits holed up in a castle north of London. He saw his mother die when the first dragon woke up, and he has been working hard to keep his people alive ever since.
Leadership style: quiet, gentle, and caring—unwilling that any life under his command be risked unnecessarily.
Method: stay safe; stay alive; outlast the dragons.
Van Zan (played by Matthew McConaughey) is an American marine who shows up in England with tanks, a helicopter, and a daring mission. He is hard-natured and difficult to get along with, but he and his Americans have done what Quinn thought impossible—killing dragons.
Leadership style: strong, harsh, and military minded—willing to use (rather than suffer from) the knowledge of the lives that must be sacrificed to get the job done.
Method: take risks in battle to win the war.
Says Van Zan to Quinn after both men make mistakes and catastrophe strikes: “We have paid a terrible price, and now we’ve got a chance to make a difference. We will.”
These dragons weren’t meant to be intelligent, sentient beings—they’re monsters. In a book to be passed on to future leaders, Quinn writes,
“I saw the first, but soon the world saw millions. No one knew how they spawned so fast. They swarmed like locusts, burning everything in their path, driven by one purpose… to feed. Even then, we couldn’t believe they were real. Ancient man had made them into myths, but nature had made something far more terrible. Too late, our scientists discovered their true identity… a species which had burned the dinosaurs to dust, whose ash had brought on ice ages, who, in eons past, had scorched the world clean of life. Then starved, then slept, waiting for the earth to replenish itself, waiting to start their cycle anew…”
If dragons are monsters, these are the scary ones. My one complaint? A bit of a size inconsistency in a couple of places. If you’re going to make a dragon big and epic, make sure it stays big and epic in other scenes, okay?
It’s true that the plot is an old, simple one: when evil is accidentally awakened and takes over the world, two good guys must put aside their differences to fight the monsters in win-or-die action scenes, therein saving the world. Still, simple isn’t always bad—I’m sure I’ll keep pulling this movie out every year or two to see again. You don’t have to love it, but it’s worth watching at least once, just for fun—tell me what you think!