For good, bad or worse, a Zack Snyder film always leaves you with so much to unpack. It just so happens that this time, after watching his 134-minute half-plastic-half-impressive and strangely blurry space opera, Rebel Moon — Part 1: A Child of Fire, you are hardly motivated to dissect its many shortcomings.
Rebel Moon is Snyder channelling Akira Kurosawa and George Lucas to tell a classical story. The characters are placed suitably, there is a lot of cool myth-making, good old grand canvas action set pieces, pristine set designs, nuggets of good nostalgia and a Goliath ready to be taken down. The film he ends up telling with all this, however, is an utterly clumsy, generic mishmash of sci-fi tropes that is stuck between sci-fi spectacle deja vu and outright cliche. What’s even more bizarre is the baffling use of blur that smudges out many fine details — it’s similar to a technique he used in the post-credit scene in his cut of Justice League. This, of course, delays the suspension of disbelief a bit.
Firstly, Rebel Moon is a Zack Snyder film out and out; every second gets his well-known treatment and the filmmaker is in complete control here, sans the obvious compromises that might make it to his R-rated cut later. The film is like a showreel of his cinematic flourishes; for instance, take the scene when our protagonist Kora (Sofia Boutella) tells about who she used to be. With a rousing background score, glorious cinematic slow-motion and every pixel infused with edgy green-screen CGI, we are shown glimpses from when she lost her lover in a battle before massacring her enemies and raising the flag of her leaders. And yet, you feel nothing for her. This is despite fully understanding the moment’s gravitas and what Snyder’s going for here.
Rebel Moon — Part 1: A Child of Fire (English)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Sofia Boutella, Ed Skrein, Charlie Hunnam, Staz Nair, Djimon Hounsou, Doona Bae and more
Runtime: 134 minutes
Storyline: An ex-soldier and a farmer travel across the galaxy to unite a team of soldiers to fight against the despicable Admiral Atticus Noble and his army
With a voiceover by Anthony Hopkins (who plays the last of a race of robot soldiers called Jimmy), we enter a war-torn galaxy that is reeling from unrest following the assassination of the royal family of Motherworld, including Princess Issa, a divine child believed to possess powers of resurrection. With several subordinate planets revolting in the wake of the king’s death, a senator named Balisarius declares himself Regent.
On the planet of Veldt, Kora lives in a peaceful farming community that is soon threatened when Balisarius’ dreadful puppet, Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), along with his army of soldiers (called Imperium), descends to hunt for rebel leaders, specifically the Bloodaxes. But, of course, these space idiots in Nazi-like uniforms aren’t going to leave without forcing the village to submit. Kora, who we now realise is a hardened ex-Imperium soldier living in isolation, along with a farmer named Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), decides to go all Seven Samurai at Noble and his men.
They embark on a journey to recruit soldiers from across the galaxy who have a reason to fight against the regime, and the sequencing with which each of these characters gets recruited feels like evenly-cut blocks attached with a string. All of them follow the same suit, alternating between spirited and soulless, nevertheless engaging only due to the cool character designs.
The done-to-dust showdown at a bar brings us Kai (Charlie Hunnam), a self-centred rascal with useful know-how. An enslaved Tarak (Staz Nair) tames a half-eagle-half-lion creature to be freed and join the crew in one of the better scenes. For all that is told about General Titus (Djimon Hounsou), a guilt-ridden general of the Imperium, now drowning himself in alcohol, he gets the routine guilty commander monologue and a ridiculous conversation with Kora. Nemesis (Doona Bae), a swordmaster with blazing swords akin to lightsabers, carries the depth of a mother’s grief in battling Harmada, a spider-like alien who has kidnapped a child to seek revenge. Then there are the Bloodaxes, details of whom are better left unsaid.
After a turn of events that you see a mile away from, this team of misfits march towards what should have been an epic showdown, except that it’s expensive, grand-scale silliness, bordering on pointless — your guess on how the events unfold will be as good as any.
For all the space she gets to share her mythos, Kora makes you wonder if a sequel, let alone a franchise, can sustain on her shoulders. Even attempts to convey the world-weariness escape in Boutella alternating a handful of stock expressions. The rest of the lot, despite the coolness and some intriguing backstories yet to be delved into, almost come across like plastic action figures.
Lack of ambition is definitely not what you’d expect from Snyder, let alone for all the talks of realising a dream, but here he is, bowing in making a film with low-hanging fruits. The classical approach to screenplay isn’t the issue here; giving his all for mythmaking and world-building, the filmmaker has lost it in writing fresh, innovative concepts that support them. That this first film is only the coming together of a team makes you hope the second instalment has all the goodies that were promised. For now, his director’s cut of Justice League remains his most heartfelt of tributes to a popular IP.
Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire is currently streaming on Netflix