Denton Van Zan, the dragon slayer (no kidding) from Reign of Fire, is a quintessential antihero: cranky, driven, and tough as nails. And that pretty much sums up his gentle side.
He has a beef with the dragons bordering on obsession. It makes you wonder, what could be the root of that. Personal issues? Alpha male syndrome?
In his defense, the dragons in the movie have got all the bad rap – they pretty much destroyed human civilization as we know it and are poised on wiping out the remaining few pockets of humanity.
We meet him at a critical juncture in the movie. He and his troops, the Kentucky Irregulars, a ragtag force of volunteers, had flown 8,000 miles on a two-engine plane before they tried to land on an abandoned airstrip outside Manchester. He lost 122 men and most of his fuel. Looking for shelter and a way to refit his artillery he and his men come across Quinn’s hideout somewhere in the English countryside.
He elicits help in his inimitable way,
“We can do this easy, or we can do this real easy.”
Leaving a trail of testosterone and destruction, he trundles in his tank all the way to London intent on pitting himself against the baddest and meanest being in the whole Creation.
Van Zan is a paradox. On the one hand, he mercilessly pursues his agenda no matter the casualties. On the other hand, he genuinely cares for his people.
Interestingly enough, he doesn’t get involved with the prettiest and just about the only girl around. Nor is there but a whiff of romance between the two throughout the movie. If anything, they have a straightforward professional relationship based on trust and camaraderie.
He shows he knows his stuff and perhaps should be credited for patenting the gutsiest, or the most insane, depending on how you look at it, way of slaying a dragon. He can also quote American history and says some of the most thoughtful lines that ever came from the mouth of a tough guy.
How about this:
“Envy the country that has heroes, huh?! I say, pity the one that needs ’em.”
On top of it all, he lets Quinn, the movie’s hero, in on the secret! So, in the end, he proves instrumental in bringing about the demise of the dragons.
But perhaps more importantly, he rekindles hope in the hearts of the few remaining survivors. His grit leaves no one, not even Quinn, unimpressed.
Van Zan is the kind of a guy you may not like but you can be sure to count on when the going gets tough. Realist to the bone, he’s always the first one to say,
“Look out the window. Eden isn’t burning. It’s burned.”