A ridiculous Matthew McConaughey fantasy film is now being streamed
By Nathan Kamal | 9 seconds ago
Matthew McConaughey is best known for playing gently southern, cunningly charming characters. He first became prominent by turning what on paper was an obvious predator into a guy you would want to take a drink with. Dizzy and confused, and have often played variations on that theme. It could be a slightly slick lawyer who got fair in the legal thriller A time to kill or a criminal white boy named Rick in The white boy Rick, but they all have something in common: that Matthew McConaughey charm. However, the future Oscar winner decided to expand the scope of a cruel science fiction / fantasy film released in 2002 and portray a character completely without the qualities that made him famous. That movie is Reign of Fire, with Christian Bale and a bunch of dragons in the lead role, and it’s currently being streamed on Hulu.
Before we go into what Matthew McConaughey had to play in Reign of FireIt’s worth investigating what hit the box office in 2002. The most lucrative films of the year were Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so fantasy movies were clearly a potential hit. The first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie broke new ground for comic book adaptations, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones were disappointing fans while making money hand over fist, and Men in black II tested the limits of Johnny Knoxville’s appeal. Into this crowded field went Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale to fight dragons in a post-apocalyptic London.
To give Reign of Fire it’s reasonable, it’s at least an original performance. The film begins in what was then London, while a subway construction reveals a dragon that has lain dormant beneath the earth’s surface for millions of years. A young boy named Quinn Abercromby (possibly the most British name ever) witnesses his mother being killed by the dragon’s emergence and growing up to be Christian Bale. A quick voice-over exhibition dump by Bale explains that this one dragon led to millions, which led to the use of nuclear weapons in a failed attempt to fight them, and almost the extinction of the human race. Christian Bale, his best friend Gerard Butler, and a collection of others lead a meager life in Bamburgh Castle, far from the central dragon nest in London, until Matthew McConaughey emerges as the gravel-minded, bearded and often unassuming leader of a band with dragon-killing Kentucky militiamen.
Matthew McConaughey plays the fanatical dragon slayer Denton Van Zan (another fantastic name) with a lack of humor that completely misunderstands his central appeal. The role would be perfect for a bulk-framed actor less capable of nuance and charm, such as co-star Gerard Butler or the then-emerging star Vin Diesel, but Matthew McConaughey is hopelessly mistaken. That does not mean he does not give everything. Van Zan is full of oversized intensity and monologues about the death of the winged beasts, and to his credit, Matthew McConaughey commits. Christian Bale has a slightly more layered role as the leader of a community of survivors, understandably reluctant to fight back on the dragons of a suicide mission after seeing the fall of civilization due to fiery monsters. He also has a bearded, unkempt look identical to how he would play Bruce Wayne in training a few years later in Batman beginsso it was at least something good Reign of Fire.
Reign of Fire is the kind of movie that asks you to buy into the central premise and not ask too many questions, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Dragons fighting desperate human survivors in a burning world of ruins is actually a good central image, but then the film continues to burden it with unnecessary pseudoscience that makes you think harder about the flimsy logic of the story. Christian Bale’s exhibition dump suggests that the dragons actually killed the dinosaurs and the subsequent amount of ash produced caused by the ice age. It has nothing to do with the action itself in the film, but you are then stuck with the idea that these animals (which Matthew McConaughey and the film themselves repeatedly take to emphasize that they are, as supposed to be magical creatures), hunted several species of dinosaurs to extinction, which is not at all typical of animals in a biosystem other than humans. The film also hangs on the idea that out of millions of dragons, a single male is responsible for all breeding, so killing him destroys them all, Horcrux-style. It does not seem like an evolutionarily healthy breeding strategy.
Matthew McConaughey would spend several years after Reign of Fire appears in dirt as How to lose a guy in 10 days, Saharaand Ghosts of Girlfriends Past before he reinvented himself in the now legendary McConaissance. Christian Bale played the lead role in the equally confusing, high-concept flop Equilibrium in 2002, but would soon team up with Christopher Nolan for the colossal success of the Dark Knight trilogy. Reign of Fire flopped at the box office and raised $ 82 million against a $ 60 million budget, and currently has a surprisingly generous 42% on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe one day we will get the post-apocalyptic dragon adventure the audience deserves, but it was not this one.