Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (2023, dir. Zack Snyder)

by | Dec 19, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 134 mins

UK Distributor: Netflix

UK Release Date: 22 December 2023

WHO’S IN REBEL MOON – PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE?

Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Charlie Hunnam, Michiel Huisman, Staz Nair, Doona Bae, Ray Fisher, Cleopatra Coleman, E. Duffy, Dustin Ceithamer, Anthony Hopkins, Jena Malone, Ed Skrein, Fra Fee, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Charlotte Maggi, Stuart Martin, Corey Stoll, Cary Elwes, Alfonso Herrera, Rhian Rees, Ray Porter

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Zack Snyder (director, writer, producer, cinematographer), Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad (writers), Wesley Coller, Eric Newman and Deborah Snyder (producers), Junkie XL (composer), Dody Dorn (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In a faraway universe, a team of unlikely heroes band together to take on the authoritarian forces…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON REBEL MOON – PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE?

As legend apparently tells, Zack Snyder’s new two-part space opera Rebel Moon began life as a pitch for a new Star Wars standalone movie. Of course, nothing ever came of it, or at least not at Lucasfilm; it eventually found a home at Netflix, which is still on the hunt for a definitive movie franchise to call its own, after would-be blockbusters like The Gray Man, Red Notice, Heart of Stone and others fell far short of expectations.

You can now add Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire to that list, for it is yet another incoherent, redundant, and all-around unentertaining slog that brings out all of Snyder’s least favourable qualities as both a filmmaker and a storyteller.

The film, set in a faraway galaxy that is ruled by a totalitarian government – sound familiar? – known as the Motherworld, begins on the moon planet Veldt, which is home to a peaceful clan of farmers. One day, they are visited by the very Nazi-ish Motherworld representative Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), who demands that the farmers provide them with their harvest or suffer the consequences. This leads a young woman named Kora (Sofia Boutella), who has made a home on Veldt after a dark history on the Motherworld, to set across the galaxy and find a band of noble warriors who can help the defenceless community fight back against Noble and his forces.

She and fellow farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) eventually come across various rogues such as mercenary Kai (Charlie Hunnam, sporting an outlandish Northern Irish accent for whatever reason), former general Titus (Djimon Hounsou), enslaved animal whisperer Tarak (Staz Nair), swordmaster Nemesis (Doona Bae) and fugitive rebel leader Darrian Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), all of whom she must convince to join her noble cause against the Motherworld’s regime.

The plot is, essentially, Seven Samurai in space. At first, that doesn’t seem too bad a comparison to make; after all, Star Wars itself was said to have been partially inspired by the films of Akira Kurosawa, so for Snyder to cut from the same cloth seems to make enough sense, especially for something originally designed for the Star Wars universe. But then, the film begins borrowing the look and aesthetic of not just Star Wars, but several other films like Blade Runner, Dune, Gladiator, Total Recall, District 9, The Hunger Games, Mad Max: Fury Road, Snyder’s own 300 – the list goes on and on of movies, shows, literature and even video games that Snyder is blatantly replicating without adding anything of substance (special mention, too, to how he near-identically lifts a famous shot from, of all things, Free Willy).

The more it borrows, the more it becomes glaringly obvious that there isn’t an original bone in Rebel Moon’s body, because it has no creative identity of its own outside of Snyder’s usual trademarks such as grim, borderline repulsive cinematography and an overindulgence of speed-ramping (when it goes from slow-motion to fast to slow again; it’s in pretty much every one of his films, so why wouldn’t it be in this one too?).

You notice all these similarities to other properties even more, because at no point does Snyder make anything else in his and co-writers Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad’s script feel worthy of your attention or interest. Theirs is a script filled entirely with exposition dialogue, meant to establish this wider universe but making things even more confusing than they already are. Certain big events that we should at least see in action are reduced to static monologues, preventing the viewer from envisioning whatever the hell they’re talking about, as well as making this seemingly straightforward universe feel far more complicated.

Its stoic world-building is at the expense of developing or giving any of its characters a sense of personality, including the supposed warriors who we’re told are among the strongest fighters in this galaxy, but other than that have almost nothing else going for them. The long-winded descriptive dialogue is delivered with the straightest of faces by actors who are very good in other things but are here directed to be as soulless as the script they’re reading from, rendering a lot of their performances to be as wooden as anything you’d find in the Star Wars prequels (though those movies at least had more interesting stuff going on).

The biggest sin that Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire makes, however, is by being almost unbearably boring, so much so that it leaves you absolutely uninterested in seeing Part Two: The Scargiver come April. This is a movie that opens with, rather than exciting space battles or visiting strange planets, a good half-hour at the least of discussions about wheat crops and farm distribution. Then, the rest of the movie proceeds to be nothing more than an extended sequence of gathering the heroes in what would normally be a three-minute montage; you’re half-expecting each scene of these warriors being introduced to end with “You son of a bitch, I’m in!”.

None of it, though, is exciting or entertaining, since Snyder presents such an ugly aesthetic that almost blinds you with how uninteresting every single frame is (fun fact: I saw this on a 70mm print, which somehow made it more jarring to watch, especially when its occasional brightness flickers on the screen). It’s all passing time before getting to the action promised in that second part, but the way that this introduction fails to set up anything in a truly captivating way, you’re left feeling as though you only have to see Part Two out of pure obligation, and even then there’s no guarantee it will be that much better.

With no characters to identify with, nothing in the plot that doesn’t remind you of far better movies, and little in the way of visual stimulation to stop you from looking at your watch more than the actual screen, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is a mind-numbing bore that is extremely Zack Snyder in the least desirable ways. It will be interesting, though, to see Snyder’s rather cultish fanbase try and defend this film, for like most of his other movies it says nothing while giving the appearance of saying something profound – only this one somehow says even less than you might expect from this guy.

No wonder Kathleen Kennedy passed on this one.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is a shockingly redundant space opera by Zack Snyder, which borrows from endless other media to make up for its own lack of creative identity, as well as for its script made up entirely of exposition dialogue, zero character development, and a wildly uninteresting aesthetic that makes it incredibly boring to sit through.

One out of five stars

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