Reign of Fire

The screening times conflicted, and I had to choose between seeing “Reign of Fire” or “Stuart Little 2.” Naturally, I chose the movie about dragons over the one about a talking mouse.

As movies about dragons go, “Reign of Fire” is a pretty good one. It’s reasonably smart, rather imaginative and very hard-working. It’s probably as believable as a movie about dragons could be, and the dragons look real. It’s better than “Dragonslayer,” but not quite as good as “Pete’s Dragon.” I enjoyed it.

It is set in a ruined 2020, 12 years after dragons suddenly appeared in London and scorched their way to the top of the food chain. They live on ash, which is why they burn everything they see; they don’t care if humans are in the way, and they’re not opposed to eating them, too. The few clusters of people left alive have taken shelter in ruined castles and underground fortresses.

The leader of one such group is Quinn (Christian Bale), who was involved in the very first dragon sighting and has been running from them ever since. His horde, composed mostly of children whose melancholy prayers at night revolve around keeping safe from dragons, has little food and not much in the way of weapons. They exist in a castle in Northumberland, England.

Then along comes an American squadron of dragon-fighters, led by the bald, bearded, tattooed maniac Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey). He is part of a long line of over-the-top characters played by over-the-top actors who provide unintentional laughs in movies that otherwise are fairly straightforward. He challenges Quinn’s cower-in-the-castle mentality and wants to aggressively pursue and kill the flying firebreathers.

There’s a doomed, apocalyptic feel to the film that is sharp enough to give it an edge, but not so much that it becomes gloomy.

Also a plus is that it’s not afraid to be just a dragon movie. There are no parallels to current events, no ironic references to other dragon movies, no pretenses of being anything else. Director Rob Bowman (“The X-Files”) takes himself as seriously as he has to, but never forgets that he’s not making “Casablanca” here. The result is a movie whose action scenes are exciting and whose scary beasts are indeed scary.

B (1 hr., 40 min.; PG-13, a couple mild profanities, a lot of dragon-related violence, but nothing terribly graphic.)