Review: ‘Rebel Moon-Part One: A Child Of Fire’

Zack Snyder's Pale 'Star Wars' And 'Seven Samurai' Copycat Is Dead On Arrival

Zack Snyder makes it hard for us who are his fans to defend him sometimes. He takes bold swings at original content with grand aspirations, let’s use the critically-panned Sucker Punch as an example, but when those misguided efforts misfire, they misfire with reckless abandon. Rebel Moon, an “original” sci-fi space opera originally pitched as a Star Wars film inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, sounds awesome on paper. All of Snyder’s films sound awesome on paper. But in actual execution, it is a convoluted, shallow imitation of Kurosawa and numerous other sci-fi epics that Snyder and co-writers Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad have consumed but missed the best aspects of.

Going into Rebel Moon-Part One: A Child of Fire, I was ready to declare this as Snyder’s magnum opus, and the first great movie franchise for Netflix. Coming out, I was stunned at how unusually terrible the film is. In just about every way it fails to inspire, fails to connect you with any of its characters, fails to make you give a damn about the battle between good and evil. Snyder thumbs his nose at Lucasfilm, who rejected his Star Wars pitch, right from the beginning. He throws you right into long-winded narration by a solemn Anthony Hopkins, who voices the peaceful droid Jimmy. Snyder dares you to hate his movie for this leaden intro, which isn’t that different from the start of A New Hope, complete with a pan down from the stars to the farming planet of Veidt. There’s a lot of other unfathomable stuff thrown out there, historical events we have no clue about, places and people named without any context. It’s all a slog, but the gist is that Motherworld, a clear stand-in for the Empire, is evil and they are taking over the galaxy at the expense of the weak. There’s a rebellion brewing against them, of course.

The problem with Snyder’s films, the good and the bad ones, is that he presumes the audience walks in already invested in everything. Then Snyder provides absolutely no reason for you to actually get invested. Even when the premise is as tried ‘n true as the classic “gathering of heroes” seen in Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, it’s done in as cold and unfeeling a way as possible. Then again, perhaps that’s fitting for the wooden performance of star Sofia Boutella, who plays the mysterious ex-Motherworld soldier, Kora. She’s found a home in the peaceful farming community on Veidt. When the bad guys suddenly show up, their starship looming over the planet like a dark cloud, she’s the only one who knows what’s going to happen. Well, other than us. While it takes an excrutiating amount of time to get there, the cruel Atticus Noble unleashes the evil empire’s wrath on the people. Kora fights back and along with her pal Gunnar (Michael Huisman), sets out to recruit others to help the town defend itself from inevitable payback.

It’s pointles to go through the monotonous recruitment drive, filled with big name stars given absolutely nothing to do, playing vaguely “cool” characters with zero personality. Charlie Hunnam as a cheap Han Solo knockoff, an extremely bored Djimon Hounsou (a victim of too many bad blockbusters wasting his talent), Staz Nair, Doona Bae, Jena Malone (as a damn spidery thing! She deserves better!), poor poor Ray Fisher, Fra Free, and Cleopatra Coleman have roles that don’t amount to much. You won’t remember a damn thing that any of them does, even when they’re in the midst of sweeping visual flourishes during one of Snyder’s trademark slow-mo action sequences. All of the characters we’re introduced to feel like pale copies of what would’ve been prominent Star Wars figures, and perhaps that’s because they are. A lot of Rebel Moon feels like it was written to be a part of Lucasfilm’s galaxy far far away, but failing that, they simply changed the names and nothing else. That would explain why all of Kora’s recruits feel like different versions of fallen Jedi.

Snyder has a sweet spot, and he’s found it in fun, energetic, popcorn movies like Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Army of the Dead. The problem is when Snyder gets a big head about whatever project he’s working on. Snyder in serious mode is always a drag. Rebel Moon is stuffy, pretentious nonsense that shows zero self-awareness and the only thing that could make it worse is an even longer director’s cut…which we already know is coming in 2024.

I won’t go so far as to say my confidence in Snyder is shattered forever. I bet the next Army of the Dead will be killer. But I don’t want to see more Rebel Moon, and if this were a movie on the big screen with box office and critical demands there probably wouldn’t be one. But we know that’s not how Netflix works. It’s hard viewership data that counts, and Rebel Moon will get a lot of eyeballs on it, for better or worse. Maybe when Part Two: The Scargiver arrives next year it’ll change my mind about the cinematic universe Snyder is attempting to build. Stranger things have happened. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but sometimes it looks like a slap to the face.

Rebel Moon- Part One: A Child Of Fire hits Netflix on December 21st.

Rebel Moon- Part One: A Child of Fire
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-rebel-moon-part-one-a-child-of-fireZack Snyder makes it hard for us who are his fans to defend him sometimes. He takes bold swings at original content with grand aspirations, let's use the critically-panned Sucker Punch as an example, but when those misguided efforts misfire, they misfire with reckless...