Films based on video games are hit ‘n’ miss. There are bombs like Doom, Max Payne, Street Fighter, and Super Mario Bros., and a few good ones like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the Resident Evil franchise, and Mortal Kombat. Well, here’s the latest attempt but with dragons!!
Milla Jovovich returns in another video game adaptation, but not as her Alice character from the Resident Evil series, but as Captain Natalie Artemis, a U.S. Army Ranger who, along with her intrepid soldiers, are out on maneuvers when surprise! They are somehow zapped (with the help of a weird sandstorm) into another world where pirate ships sail on desert dunes and prehistoric creatures & dragons roam. Anyway, they encounter a sand-worm from Arrakis… sorry, I mean, a dune-traveling dragon-creature. But “Diablos” only kills a few soldiers, the rest are stung and spun into cocoons by a whole bunch of spider/scorpion/lobster thingys. Ouch!
Natalie is the lone survivor and meets another lone survivor in this hostile land, a Hunter (Tony Jaa) with mad skills who is trying to get back home, like Natalie. Speaking no English, Hunter communicates that the only way to safety & home is to get to a distant tower, but that means taking out the gigantic Diablos first. After your basic training montage, they get together and defeat the deadly Diablos and make it closer to the Tower, but Natalie runs into more problems. And his name is the Admiral (Ron Perlman wearing a silly 80’s hair-band wig!).
This Pirates of the Caribbean wanna-be is the leader of a rag-tag crew that agrees to help Natalie shut down the Tower, as its unstable power is causing a worm-hole to open between our worlds. But to do so, they first gotta battle the monstrous Rathalos, a really nasty flying fire-breathing dragon. Well, wouldn’t cha know it? That darned dragon and Natalie somehow get zapped back to our world and chaos ensues as the U.S. Army tries to kill this fantastic beast. Good thing nothing kills Natalie, as she’s really gotten good at destroying dragons lately.
This is one silly, stupid, dumb movie and right up Paul W. S. Anderson’s alley, since he wrote, co-produced, and directed this piece of nonsense that feels like it was written by a 12-year-old doing on-line fan-fiction. It’s SO very hokey, SO very clichéd, and filled with plot holes the size of Godzilla. Of course, this is on-par for Anderson, who wrote/directed the seriously weird Resident Evil series, Pompeii, and the Death Race films. His scripts are ludicrous, silly, underwritten, and has dialogue that is laughably bad. And yes, it’s open-ended for more sequels. Egads!
And that editing! Hoo-boy! The fight scenes between Jovovich and Jaa, which were pretty good, were butchered by the inept slam edits and jump-cuts! Who does that? Anderson also loves his sloooo-moooo and uses it a lot. Sheesh! Oh, and did I mention the alien cat-pirate-chef? I’m not kidding! A 5ft cat. That’s also a pirate. AND the crew’s cook. What. The. Hell. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. I will give credit to Jovovich (aka Mrs. Wes Anderson) and Jaa who carry the film. They do have nice chemistry together, despite little dialogue. And the great Ron Perlman is given a paycheck role, as he’s barely onscreen.
**Currently streaming on FandangoGo, Prime Video and other VOD
Reign of Fire (2002)
Well, it’s 2021 and, according to this movie’s timeline, right now the world’s population is practically extinct. But not from any pandemic, but from a bunch of ferocious fire-breathing dragons! I think I’ll take my chances with the latter, thank you very much!
It’s 2005 and young Quinn Abercromby (Ben Thornton) is visiting his mom’s work at a London underground construction site when workers excavate a hidden cave. Of course, boys being boys, and Quinn crawls inside and accidentally awakens a real live dragon. Sheesh! Kids! Am I right? Anyway, this Godzilla-sized creature escapes, after which more dragons appear and, well, you can figure out the rest. Mankind doesn’t stand a chance and young Quinn grows up blaming himself for the world-wide apocalypse.
Fast-forward to 2020 and it’s your A-typical dystopian wasteland, with only a bunch of rag-tag survivors that eke out a living while killing those pesky dragons when they show up. Their leader is a grown-up Quinn (Christian Bale), who’s hell-bent on killing those beasts along with his BFF, wise-cracking Creedy (Gerard Butler) while trying to feed and protect a small community at a broken-down castle in England. But things change one day when a small band of well-armed Kentucky Irregulars from America arrives to help slay dragons. They’re led by the eccentric Denton Van Zan (a bald Matthew McConaughey, all buffed, ripped, and sporting six-pack abs!) who not only has a god-complex, but is just like Ahab; he’s obsessed with killing dragons.
Van Zan has a helicopter, tanks, and enough fire-power to destroy a dozen dragons, but his plan to take down the gigantic alpha male. No male, no more dragons. After Van Zan kills one, he loses soldiers and wants more of Quinn’s men, but Quinn ain’t haven’t any of that. Van Zan, along with his trusty chopper pilot, Alex (Isabella Scorupco), and a bunch of volunteers, take off towards London, but that alpha male not only kills Van Zan’s people, but (a major plot hole) goes after Quinn’s hidden fortress as well! Huh. Must’ve used Google maps, I guess. . .
Quinn, Van Zan, and Alex decide enough’s enough and return to London with C4-tipped magnesium arrows to destroy the alpha male dragon. While the script, written by Matt Greenburg (1408, Mercy), and Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka (their one and only screenplay), is simplistic in structure and story, it focuses not so much on the dragons, but on the relationships of Quinn and Van Zan. And for this movie, it really works, mostly because of the exceptional acting talents of Bale and McConaughey. These two bite into this sci-fi/fantasy tale of dragons with all the veracity of trying to out-act act other. If Bale is extreme, McConaughey cranks it up to eleven with his cigar-chomping, 1000-yard stare intensity.
Director Rob Bowman (X-Files, Electra) gives you a roller-coaster ride with this film, with a look reminiscent of several Terminator movies. The action, burnt-out buildings, fire-power, and the raggedy-looking, worn-with-age dragons add a dimension of realism. For some added fun, look for a cute scene where Butler and Bale reenact a scene from Star Wars as entertainment for some children. Fun Fact: on the set, no one was allowed to call McConaughey by his real name. He HAD to be called Van Zan the entire time, whether they were filming or not!