I'd been looking forward to the Sci-Fi Channel's REIGN OF THE GARGOYLES ever since I first read about it a few months back. Nazis unleashing gargoyles to wage war against Allied fighter planes sounds like a really nifty idea to me. Previews for the movie showed some fairly competent computer generated gargoyles and WW2 era fighter planes engaging in aerial warfare, complete with machine gunners taking aim at the supernatural strike force attempting to rip their planes apart with their bare claws. It looked seriously cool. So perhaps the reason I came away from this movie feeling the way I did was really more my fault for allowing myself to get psyched for an original movie from a network that's no stranger to letting me down.
Now to be honest, the movie is not terrible at all. It's a perfectly acceptable time waster for one to watch on a rainy day or a lazy afternoon. It's just that the film seemed to be promising more than it ever had any intention to deliver. The film isn't nearly the flyboys vs. Nazi gargoyles movie I thought it was going to be. Instead it was more like grounded flyboys vs. Nazis vs. gargoyles (that only appear every once in a while). The gargoyles figure prominently in the first half hour and the last ten minutes; both boasting the supernatural dogfighting I went in expecting a whole lot more of. Once the main characters get grounded behind enemy lines the movie falls into the doldrums of every WW2 movie about ragtag soldiers stranded in Nazi territory with a routine quest to retrieve a magical item subplot tossed in for good measure. The gargoyles make a few appearances along the way but nothing of any signifigance.
Nazi soldiers have uncovered some pagan ruins from the middle ages loaded with stone gargoyles intending to bring them to life in order to harness their power to help crush Allied forces. They succeed in reviving the gargoyles, but the creatures have no interest in aiding the cause of Aryan supremacy. The Nazis are slaughtered and the gargoyles begin running (flying) amok, terrorizing surrounding areas and knocking planes out of the sky.
Then we meet the Allied pilots, wingmen, and gunners that compose the crew of the Grey Ghost, piloted by grizzled veteran pilot Major Gus (Joe Penny of Riptide fame). Will (Charmed's Wes Ramsey) is the new hotshot gunner on the block; his hotdogging way raising the ire of both Major Gus and Porter (Jericho's Brad Beyer), the by-the-book second-in-command who is more than ready to come to blows at any moment with the cocky newcomer. Commander Latham (King Kong Lives squishee John Ashton) orders them on a mission to bomb the hell out of a Nazi stronghold along the Germany-Belgium border. Everyone's already a bit spooked as Allied planes have been getting knocked out of the sky one after another of late, including one that crashed right on the lawn out in front of the building housing the annual Air Force Christmas party. The pilot surviving just long enough to talk of winged creatures.
The Grey Ghost takes-off on its mission and promptly falls victim to a swarm of gargoyles. The crew parachutes to safety and find themselves behind enemy lines, taken in by a small band of local resistence fighters. One particular female resistence fighter fills them in on the gargoyle problem.
Long story short, banished pagans built a statue of their "horned king" deity out of some mystical bloodstone and brought it to life to take revenge on those that persecuted them. The gargoyle went into business for itself and began bestowing its power on other gargoyle statues bringing them to life under its command. A Catholic knight defeated the "Gargoyle King" by piercing its heart with the "Spear of Destiny," the spear that pierced Christ's side while on the cross. The knight was then buried with said spear after dying.
Naturally, this means they need that spear in order to slay the Gargoyle King - doing so destroys its power and thus turns its minions back into the stone statues they started out as. Thank goodness she knows exactly where to find this knight's tomb with the spear and thank even more goodness it's located only a mere 30 miles away from their current location. The trek isn't that easy since most of these guys are flyboys not really trained for ground fighting. Plus there's the matter of Nazis being in pursuit of them led by a guy that could very well be Col. Klink's slightly more competent cousin. And every so often some pygmy-sized animated stone gargoyles that explode into digitized blurs of red and grey dust upon being shattered by bullets show up to cause trouble.
From about the half hour mark until the last ten minutes, REIGN OF THE GARGOYLES has less to do with gargoyles and more to do with exposition, hiking, shootouts, explosions, and noble sacrifices. There's nothing particularly wrong with any of this other than my becoming increasingly overwhelmed with apathy as the film dragged on. There's a billion other movies out there were I can see Allied soldiers behind enemy lines duking it out with Nazi stormtroopers; I'm watching this movie because I want to see pilots and soldiers (Allied or Nazi - I didn't care at this point) waging war with gargoyles.
There's also the matter of not being able to shake the feeling that the screenplay really blew it with the Gargoyle King. According to the flashback, it had its own agenda for world domination; an agenda it clearly takes up again given the hundreds of gargoyles it begins reanimating. But you'd never know the Gargoyle King or any of its smaller minions were anything more than mindless monsters killing and destroying for the sake of doing so. Seems that avenue should have been explored and surely would have made things more compelling than typical scenes where the evil Nazi interrogates and kills villagers as to the whereabouts of the downed airmen or the grounded flyboys working together to shoot a Nazi fighter plane out of the sky. Not blasting a gargoyle out of the sky, mind you; this movie devoted 5-10 minutes to them trying to take out a Nazi pilot strafing them.
Heck, the story could have even set things up to have the Allied and Nazi soldiers forced to team up against this greater evil. Wouldn't that have been a twist? Imagine the various character and storyline possibilities that might have opened up.
The only place these gargoyles reign is in the title. A competently made film; yes. A by-the-numbers monster mash that never really captures the imagination due to it not having much of its own to begin with; even more so, I say.
I really wish I could muster more enthusiasm for what still was a somewhat better-than-average Sci-Fi Channel original but I just cannot get over my immense disappointment with how such a promising premise was mishandled. Am I wrong for expecting gargoyles to take center stage in a movie called REIGN OF THE GARGOYLES?