Tough London lad Quinn leads a rapidly fragmenting community in Northumbria, which is put under further pressure by the arrival of (who else?) the remains of the US military, here to strike at the dragons' one weakness. But Quinn has a secret. He was that schoolboy - and facing his fears and returning to the dragons' lair may be the only way to save mankind.
It's amazing that there haven't been more genuinely scary movies about dragons. They attack from the air, they're huge, and they breathe fire - what more can you ask? Luckily, veteran X-Files director Rob Bowman knows a good scare when he sees one, and conjures up a grimy, near monochrome future where danger lurks over every horizon and every child knows the mantra "Keep both eyes on the sky." The monsters themselves are thoroughly convincing, and the smartly paced action keeps you on the edge of your seat. Look out for an inventive, breathtaking sequence where the new arrivals take on a marauding dragon and, impossibly, win...
Rising Brit star Christian Bale gives a fine performance as the determined, fragile Quinn, grappling with childhood fears, and an unrecognisable Matthew McConaughey, bristling with muscle, tattoos and bravado, heads up the Yanks. There's a dash of humour - not least the community's homegrown theatrical entertainment - a romantic interest (Izabella Scorupco) who gets some dragon-slaying action too; and it all looks terrific.
In fact, the only real complaint is, at just over an hour and a half, there just isn't enough of it. Having bitten your nails though what seems an exciting preamble to the final showdown, you suddenly realise that the 'preamble' was in fact the showdown itself, and the movie is over. No terrifying descent into the tunnels, no mythic Theseus in the Labyrinth overtones, nothing. Which isn't to say it's not a heart-pounding confrontation - it's just that Bowman's raised our expectations so high that we expected something genuinely spectacular at the end.
That disappointment aside, this is a tremendous action flick - smart, tense, and terrifying without resorting to gore or cheap shocks. A must have monster movie.