Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Rebel Moon Part One: Child of Fire

Josh Reviews Rebel Moon Part One: Child of Fire

In Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon Part One: Child of Fire, Sofia Boutella stars as Kora, a young woman hiding out on a remote planet, in a small farming village.  Her tranquil life is interrupted when the military forces of the “Motherworld” arrive, on the hunt for rebels against the Imperium.  They demand the villagers give them all of their grain to feed their troops, even though that will condemn the villagers to starvation.  Reluctantly, Kora decides to fight back, and she sets out to gather allies who can help her take a stand against the Motherworld.

Oof, this was a hard film to get through.  It’s a bummer, because despite my distaste for all the online negativity from “Snyder-bros” over the past few years, I used to be a big fan of Zack Snyder’s movies.  300 was groundbreaking and forever changed the look of action movies; Watchmen was ahead-of-its-time and a terrific adaptation of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ extraordinary graphic novel (the much-longer Ultimate Cut is particularly good), and Man of Steel is so close to being great (it’s hobbled by a bad ending and by its complete misunderstanding of the characters of Clark and Pa Kent).  I thought the theatrical cut of Batman v. Superman was a jumbled mess (though the longer directors cut is much better), and while I’m thrilled that Mr. Snyder got to complete and release his version of Justice League, I wouldn’t say it worked as a film (click here for my full review).

But I was still excited to see what Mr. Snyder would do next, and I’m always eager to see a new original sci-fi film.  Perhaps “original” is stretching things somewhat here, though.  Rebel Moon famously began as a Star Wars movie, before Mr. Snyder parted company with Lucasfilm.  It’s still very easy to see how this could have been a Star Wars story, with the Motherworld/Imperium being the Empire and the Rebels being, well, the rebels.  (One of the rebels even wields lightsabers, for goodness sake!!)

Unfortunately, while I’d guess Mr. Snyder’s ambitions was to make a new Star Wars, what he’s wound up with is more along the lines of Jupiter Ascending.  It’s big and loud and weird and doesn’t make a lick of sense, nor does it have any characters I care anything about.

The film’s storytelling is remarkably sloppy.  Anthony Hopkins’ opening exposition-dump had my head spinning.  Who is in charge of the Motherworld/Imperium now?  Were they always bad, or have they just become bad now that the King and his family were assassinated?  Who is in charge now?  Is it (pardon me while I check the internet for the character’s name) Balisarius?  Did he murder the King’s family?  Who is in the rebellion?  Were they rebelling against the old (now dead) King or just the new leader?  I wish I had some idea, even after having watched the whole movie.  I wish the film’s early scenes established the farmer Gunnar and the hunter Den as actual characters, and took the time to allow us to know what Kora thinks of them.  (Does she like one but not the other?  Does she like them both?  Did she have sex with Den after that celebratory post-harvest dinner or not?  This is actually important for us to know so we can understand the character relationships and emotional stakes.)  I wish the film bothered to give the ragamuffin Kai (Charlie Hunnam’s character) a reason to want to help Kora.  (That might have made his third-act plot “twist” an actual surprise instead of deadly obvious.)  I rolled my eyes at the way the film has the robot voiced by Anthony Hopkins (is his name really Jimmy??) awkwardly blurt out exposition about the missing princess.  And I was shocked by the clumsiness of the film’s second-act structure, in which Kora & co. go from planet to planet; at each stop they basically just stand around and watch a new character demonstrate their skills; that new character then joins their group without having any reason for doing so.  Wow, there had to have been a better way to do this, in which there could have been more momentum to the story, and in which the new characters could have been given more of an actual reason to want to join and help Kora and Gunnar.

I’ve been a fan of Sofia Boutella’s ever since her terrific performance as Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond.  (She was the best thing about that film!)  I’m thrilled to see her as the lead role in a new movie-slash-potential-franchise.  She’s a tremendous physical presence — she kicks a lot of ass — and she has terrific on-screen charisma.  I wish she was given more of a character to play.  I wish the film more clearly set up her backstory (as opposed to the awkward bursts of exposition we get).  I think the film does her a disservice by making her both a farmer (very obviously like Luke Skywalker) but also someone who’s apparently the most dangerous fighter in the galaxy.  She’s too one-dimensionally unbeatable.  It might have been more interesting had they leaned more into one or the other, with her either being a normal person forced out of her depth, or as a former weapon tired of that life who’s seeking peace away from violence.  (Neither is that original but I think it’d be more consistent as a character than what we got.)

The film looks cool, and I loved seeing a big crazy new sci-fi universe brought to life on-screen in a big-budget way.  I don’t know why everyone is so sweaty and dirty in this universe, and I there are some designs that are depressingly derivative (Noble’s dreadnought, for example, looks exactly like the Space Battleship Yamoto), but there was also lots of fun cool new stuff.  I loved the Anthony Hopkins robot (and I wish that character didn’t vanish so early in the film); I was intrigued by this race of what seem to be robots who were unfailingly loyal to the dead king.

The film has an interesting cast, but unfortunately no one is really able to rise above their one-dimensional characters.  Charlie Hunnam (Undeclared, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) is the only actor who I felt brought real energy and personality to his role, playing the mercenary pilot Kai.  I wish he had more to do in the film.  I was happy to see Michiel Huisman (so wonderful on Treme; and he was the replacement actor who played Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones) as Gunnar, but he had no character.  (I wanted him to be skeezier and/or nicer… or both!  I wish he’d had more of a character arc.)  Ed Skrein (who, in a bizarre crossover, was the FIRST actor to play Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones!) is entertainingly loathsome as the Nazi villain Admiral Noble, but he’s a one-note moustache-twirler.  (Hans Landa he is not.)  Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas) looks cool (her fight against the spider-woman was exciting) but, again, we don’t get any depth to her anime-inspired character.  I always love seeing Djimon Hounsou — he plays the disgraced General Titus (I never understood exactly why he was disgraced — who did he surrender to?), but he has absolutely nothing to do in the film (other than to remind us of his role in Gladiator).  Cary Elwes pops up as the old King; Ray Fisher plays the rebellion leader Darrian Bloodaxe (oy), Cleopatra Coleman plays Darrian’s sister Devra; Staz Nair plays Tarak (who walks around shirtless showing off his glistening muscles; I don’t know anything else about his character other than he seems to be able to tame and ride a Hippogriff)… they’re all fine performers, but the film doesn’t give them much to do.

I truly went into this film with an open heart.  I wanted to like it.  I wanted this to be a cool new sci-fi action film!!  But I’m afraid I thought this was a swing and a miss, for me.

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