THE STORY – When a colony on the edge of the galaxy finds itself threatened by the armies of the tyrannical Regent Balisarius, they dispatch a young woman with a mysterious past to seek out warriors from neighbouring planets to help them take a stand.
THE CAST – Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnum, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrien, Bae Doona, Ray Fisher, Michiel Huisman, Staz Nair, Cleopatra Coleman & Anthony Hopkins
THE TEAM – Zack Snyder (Director/Writer), Kurt Johnstad & Shay Hatten (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 134 Minutes
It’s pretty reasonable to say that Zack Snyder is one of the more intriguing studio filmmakers working in Hollywood today. A storyteller who’s always had a somewhat keen visual eye that always prioritized aesthetics over substance, he operates on a wavelength that, if you’re lucky enough to understand, transfixes you, whether it’s for better or worse. He is still freshly shedding off a filmography predominantly bound by pre-established IP, so he has looked to expand his creativity to a new original universe. “Rebel Moon- Part One: A Child of Fire” is Snyder’s foray into the sci-fi space opera in what is expected to begin a new franchise for Netflix. Unfortunately, as a series, “Rebel Moon” might be dead in the water before it even begins. It’s hard to garner mass interest for a series when the first film of said series is not only a chore to sit through but might be the most visually repulsive film of Zack Snyder’s career so far.
“Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire” follows a galaxy bounded by the shackles of a militaristic empire called the Motherworld. As the Motherworld goes through an extensive period of change, they begin to inflict their wrath on a small village town where fellow villager Kora (played by Sofia Boutella) is starting anew from a previous life she once led. Determined to save her newfound home, Kora scours the galaxy along with Gunnar (played by Michiel Huisman) to assemble a diverse group of warriors to save the village from the oppressive Motherworld before they return for their share of the village’s next harvest.
Snyder himself has stated films such as “Star Wars” and “Seven Samurai” were massive influences on the inspiration for what he wanted to bring to “Rebel Moon.” This is abundantly clear as you watch the first part of this two-part story because of its beat-for-beat replication of those previously mentioned films. Multiple characters are lazy iterations of those created in George Lucas’ massively popular franchise. Kora is a variation of Luke Skywalker, a small village farmgirl, constantly staring off into the horizon (a far uglier one compared to Tatooine), who reluctantly goes on a hero’s journey. Kai (played by Charlie Hunnum), who eventually joins Kora’s crew, is a lazy Han Solo stand-in without the charisma or scrappiness Harrison Ford imbued. Other similarities are apparent, such as a space bar similar to Mos Eisley Catina, an intelligent robot character named Jimmy (voiced by Anthony Hopkins), and a fascistic empire ruling over everyone led by the overly evil Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrien) who serves a darker, more powerful master. At this point, what’s stopping audiences from turning off this slog of a film and putting on “Star Wars” instead?
The screenplay was written by Kurt Johnstad, Shay Hatten, and Snyder (this is Snyder and Hatten’s follow-up collaboration to their previous highly enjoyable Netflix film, “Army of the Dead“). Yet “Rebel Moon” feels like nothing is working at all this time around. It exudes the energy of a couple of friends in a garage, spitting ideas such as “Woah, what if we made a movie that combined Star Wars with Seven Samurai?” but it never goes any deeper than that. “Rebel Moon” feels like a long recruitment montage from a heist film but stretches out for almost two hours. Over an hour into the film’s runtime, new characters are still introduced into Kora’s crew including the once decorated general of the Imperium Titus (Djimon Hounsou) and Darrian and Devra Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher and Cleopatra Coleman, respectively), warriors who are leading a rebellion against the Motherworld. It doesn’t help that most of these characters are uninteresting or being brought to life with some of the most stilted acting of the year. The only two somewhat interesting characters are Tarak (played by Staz Nair), a nobleman-turned-blacksmith with the ability to bond with animals of nature, and Nemesis (played by Doona Bae), a cyborg sword-master (whose weapon may or may not resemble a lightsaber). Their introductions are the only times the universe of “Rebel Moon” has an organic sense of worldbuilding that shows the potential of what Snyder wanted to bring on screen. But even that is fleeting because as soon as these characters join Kora’s crew, they’re just tossed to the side.
Snyder’s obsession with aesthetics lends to creating characters that look cool but are nothing more than extravagantly produced action figures. Once the fight sequences subside, these characters are empty vessels for delivering gibberish dialogue. Countless storylines are cast aside with little care, almost as if it’s known that Part Two will make up for this film’s incompetencies. “Rebel Moon” is also a film that has been hacked to bits in the editing room. So many scenes feel disjointed and spliced together from an original four-hour film cut that Snyder stated would be released eventually. We know he can competently direct action sequences, but here, Snyder fails even to bring one memorable piece of action to “Rebel Moon.” His signature stylized sense of action choreography and use of slo-mo is quite obnoxious in this film compared to the likes of previous films such as “300” or “Watchmen.” There’s a flashback sequence where some of Kora’s past is revealed, and there are maybe five seconds of her kicking ass at a normal speed as the rest of the sequence is bogged down by slow motion. Even without this distracting effect, the film is atrocious to look at. So much of the visual effects feel comparable to recent Marvel Studios films in how underbaked they are. It’s baffling Snyder didn’t opt to lean more into practical effects, but perhaps some of this downward trend in visuals can be attributed to him acting as his own DP compared to his earlier films. As someone who’s genuinely enjoyed most of Snyder’s films, it is bewildering what makes his movies somewhat entertaining is entirely devoid in “Rebel Moon.”
The biggest takeaway from the first installment of “Rebel Moon” is one of Snyder’s most significant shortcomings might actually be his biggest strength. The idea of him directing stories only in previously established worlds seemed like it was holding him back from what he could creatively produce. In reality, working on adaptations of works by far better writers such as Frank Miller and the world of DC heroes, most of the narrative heavy lifting is already taken care of. Snyder then could purely focus on his style of visual storytelling. The best films of his career are those he has little to no participation in the writing of. It doesn’t help that his mindset approaching this project was that of building some mega-franchise when, instead, he should’ve focused on making a decent film first and foremost. Instead, he has created possibly the worst movie of his career, which is edited to pieces, filled with bland characters, horrendous visuals, and an oh-so-familiar story that leaves little interest in the upcoming future installment and inevitable extended cut.