Since 2017, Midwest Film Journal has prided itself on delivering thoughtful commentary on current and classic cinema. No one piece has persisted as powerfully as our 2018 review of Den of Thieves, which we called an “unswervingly painful” waste of 140 minutes.
SEO tells us the piece’s popularity is thanks to its reference of one character’s inscrutable “Peckerwood” tattoo. Instinct tells us otherwise: People really love Gerard Butler.
Disfigured catacomb vocalist. Ripped Spartan warrior. Machine gun preacher. Secretly sweet lothario. Donut-housing cop. Dragon-slaying hero. HMS Devonshire crewman. Angry little leprechaun. Stalwart hunter killer. Geostorm-stopping scientist. Vengeful Egyptian god.
That’s but a small sampling of this Scottish export’s quarter-century run — whose body of work will be highlighted biweekly this month in a retrospective series.
This week’s installment comes from Greg Lindberg, host of Crazy Townies, a podcast about the band Crazy Town.
We bring you …The Butler Did It.
Reign of Fire is an interesting post-apocalyptic film that some people still confuse with Dragonheart. Let me assure you: They are not the same film.
It’s not a film many people remember because dragons were not yet as popular in 2002 and because it’s also not a super-fun film. However, it’s challenging and rewarding in the way Waterworld is now, viewed through an unrestrained lens as time has passed. In its displeasing, grey bleakness, Reign of Fire is proto-Zack Snyder but it’s also impressively acted and the CGI dragons look pretty decent for the time.
Oh, and Gerard Butler is in this. Did you know Gerard Butler is in this?
Well, I suppose if you read the title of this article, then you do, in fact, know that Gerard Butler has a small role in this dragonslayer epic set in 2020 England — when half of the world’s population has been destroyed after the accidental early-21st-century awakening of dragons (who made dinosaurs extinct, I guess).
On the day the dragons were released, a young boy named Quinn saw one kill his mom. Christian Bale intensely plays Quinn as an adult, who now leads a community of survivors within a giant castle. But you know he wants to take revenge on those dragons, right? Cool motivation. Very cool. So, Matthew McConaughey comes into Quinn’s town, fronting a largely militarized team that’s out to hunt and slay the one male dragon nearby. Most of the film’s strong points are in the confrontations between Bale and McConaughey’s characters.
But who is this?
Out there in the crowd.
One of the castle’s best men.
Why, it’s Gerard Butler (or the Butt Man, as I like to call him).
McConaughey’s villain forces Butler’s character, Creedy, to destroy that one male dragon that cannot stop sexin’ and producing only female dragons. Also, very cool.
When viewing the film again, I missed Butler for most of it. You get so caught up in this grimy world that Butler doesn’t get enough chances to stand out. Creedy does reason with one of the castle people by saying, “Eddie! Eddie, what are you doing? You got kids, man?” Because the filmmakers allowed Butler to use his real Scottish accent in this film, I heard, “You got cats, man?” You will be 100% on my side on this. It’s beautiful.
Then, as soon as you fall in love with the human Shrek that is Gerard Butler, a dragon burns poor Creedy alive. It happens when the male dragon attacks the castle. Quinn and Creedy have gathered all the children they can in a bunker. When Quinn says there are still children in the castle, Creedy takes his place to go back up … with only one tiny fire extinguisher to keep him safe. As soon as he walks to the door to leave, he is engulfed in flames. All in all, it’s a funny death for a character.
Following Creedy’s death, Bale delivers a wonderful performance when praying with all of the children. It kind of feels like ol’ Butt Man set Baley Boy up for an easy emotional scene with his character’s “whoops!” death. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film but Christian Bale may or may not say to the male dragon: “I hate you, dad.”
What really matters is that Butler shines as a tertiary character where most actors would not be able to stand between the bravado of Bale and McConaughey. And, hey, maybe Christopher Nolan saw that praying-with-kids bunker scene (which Butler set up), and he decided to cast him in Batman Begins. And, hey, maybe a young Zack Snyder saw this and was inspired to cast Butler in 300. For better or worse, maybe the aesthetic of Reign of Fire inspired Snyder’s future films, which also featured Batman.
So, what it comes down to is that we got two Batmans in two decades thanks to Gerard Butler. I speak for everyone at Midwest Film Journal when I say, “Thank you, Gerard Butler. Thank you for two Batmans.”
The Butler Did It continues every Monday and Thursday through April. Please check back for future installments.