When the galaxy’s ruling royal family are betrayed and a more ruthless Regent seizes the reins of power, no planet is entirely safe from their power. But an army, even a galactic one, marches on its stomach and a small moon at the far edge of the Motherworld’s reach finds a giant dreadnaught in orbit waiting to make a ‘deal’ for their grain that will neither be generous nor able to be refused. But Kora, a refugee working those self-same crops – and with secrets of her own – knows the real danger the outpost is now in. She’d rather avoid attention, but defending one of the famers’ daughters from being raped by the grunts left behind to keep the villagers under watchful eyes, her hand is forced and the outpost must prepare for retaliation.
There is no way for them to adequately defend themselves from the army that will soon be unleashed against them so Kora and fellow farmer Gunnar head out to recruit the best warriors they can find to join their cause. But the galaxy has a lack of people willing to be heroes and few who will join the rebellious cause for anything less than a solid payday. Who can Kora trust and who can she afford not to?
It’s common knowledge that Rebel Moon‘s origins were in Zack Snyder’s ideas for a Star Wars movie and within the opening minutes (and every minute thereafter) there are some obvious touchstones. A vast starship travels through space as we get exposition about the state of the galaxy’s opposing forces and in a dusty planet’s farmland below, a figure gazes skyward and looks to a universe beyond to earth they toil. Later, a Mos Eisley stand-in takes things to a sleazier level, but is still your basic hive of scum and villainy and by the end we even have an evil Emperor who seems very in tune with the dark side of a Force. If it was only Star Wars‘ structure being plundered, that would be one thing – but there’s a seam of further tropes to be mined from both greater and lesser movies and all the gloss in the galaxy can’t hide the law of diminishing returns.
Yet, to condemn it for solely being wholly unoriginal is a hardly a fair grading as plenty of other genre offerings are built on the familiar plots and shoulders of worthier works and still prove decent-enough ways to pass the time. Snyder’s folly here is not so much in cherry-picking aspects of the genre but in piling them all together in a scattershot effort that doesn’t have any true center or enough specific gravity to hold them in a sufficiently entertaining orbit. Halfway in to Rebel Moon: A Child of Fire conveyor-belt of plot and it occurs to you that you’re already getting bored and this is only the first movie – there’s a second chapter of this over-stretched, meandering mission still to come in Spring 2024.
Snyder’s universe is outwardly earthier and more sultry than that of George Lucas, rich in surface-texture, but the starched script itself bears similar highs and lows in propelling its story forward – heavy when it should glide and vice versa. His outpost farmers bear an almost Nordic sensibility in dialogue and as we venture off-world there are touches of the Germanic and Eastern visuals, accompanied by requisite choirs that echo the portents and omens on screen, though one can almost hear the dulcet tones of Darth Vader’s Imperial March as the faux-niceties of the clearly gestapo-like bad guys make their presence known. The boo-hiss factor arrives early and without subtext and becomes more and more generic as it continues. The designs are superficially strong and ornate but the FX-works surrounding that world-building vary in quality. Frankly, the expansive, all-enveloping Stagecraft technology has brought convincing backdrops to several cutting-edge television series but here there are several moments where this widescreener betrays its more basic soundstage origins. Snyder certainly has his vision, but it’s more like reverence to past benchmarks and he repeatedly falls back on slow-mo action that gets diluted by its sheer repetition and beautifully-framed shots that feel more about instant iconography (with his signature ‘silhouettes caught flying through the air’ posing) than realistic movement. Like many of his works, it’s style at the expense of actual substance.
Snyder’s folly here is not so much in cherry-picking aspects of the genre but in piling them all together in a scattershot effort that doesn’t have any true center or enough specific gravity to hold them in a sufficiently entertaining orbit…In the end, Rebel Moon is not truly awful, it’s just awfully bland…
The cast are all decent performers given adequate material to work with, knowing that for what it is and doing their best with it. Sofia Boutella serves as the poster-child of the film, an ex-royal guard named Kora who is trying to lay low on a backwater farming planet and pay her way bringing in the crops. She’s caught between wanting no trouble and yet recognising it for what it is when it arrives in the community, literally descending from on high. She’s a person forced to do the right thing, but though she has the ‘look’ and the capability, there’s little chance Boutella is going to be getting her place alongside Ripley or Sarah Connor through Rebel Moon alone. (Arguably, Serenity‘s Summer Glau also did it better). She heads off with reluctant and often cautious/cowardly partner Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) to get as many defenders with unimaginative names as she can to stand against the invaders. This brings in Doona Bae (as ninja ‘Nemesis’), Djimon Hounsou (as a disgraced general named ‘Titus’), Staz Nair (as Conan-esque ‘Trak’), Ray Fisher (as ‘Bloodaxe’) – and an untrustworthy bounty-hunter named Kai (Charlie Hunnan), all variations of screen warriors. On the bad-side we have middle-management cannon-fodder led by Ed Skrein, an equally-ridiculously-named space nazi called Atticus Noble, a Reich-like galactic goose-stepper with suitably skeletal bone structure whose hobbies include murder, hentai evenings in with his pet and chewing scenery like raw meat.
Awkward flashbacks, monologuing and pontification abound, but there are no noble Jedi Knights here to arch their brows and speak of a religion binding everything together. Early on we do meet Jimmy (eloquently voiced by Sir Anthony Hopkins, yet also given full character by the performance-capture movements) one of a race of cybernetic warriors – now reluctantly sworn into pacifistic service to the ruthless Motherworld. It looks like ‘Jimmy’ will be one of the most interesting key-players of the piece, until he totally disappears off-screen after ten minutes and isn’t seen again until the dying seconds of this first chapter.
In the end, Rebel Moon is not truly awful, it’s just awfully bland at a time when the bar is being constantly raised by television and cinema alike – the sort of film where there’s a multitude of end-credit technical acknowledgements before the cast get theirs. Not a Star Wars freed of its mythological shackles, but a glossier Battle Beyond the Stars chained to a template; not a Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven but a mediocre one and the only thing it has over the likes of more current fan-favourites such as Firefly/Serenity or The Mandalorian is a bottomless budget yet an absence of creativity.
As with all Snyder efforts, he can be applauded for sheer scale and tenacity, never meeting a conflict he can’t speed-ramp and a speed-bump he can’t target head-on… and the fact that there is said to be a bigger version to be seen at a later date. That might be longer, glossier and reportedly bloodier, but the irony is that a shorter and singular film would have worked better. At this point even ‘Jimmy’ won’t make me come back for that ‘director’s cut’ or the looming, booming Part Two…
- Production Design / VFX8