'Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire' Review
December 20, 2023
If you loved the “This is Katana” speech from 2016’s Suicide Squad, then you will have a field day with Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire. Snyder and his two credited co-writers, Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad, steal from every source they can, so much so from Star Wars and Seven Samurai that George Lucas and the estate of Akira Kurosawa would be in their legal right to sue for credit, although they shouldn’t because that would tangentially connect them to this abominable script for the rest of time. But the con doesn’t stop on the page, as nearly every image is so steeped in the iconography of what’s come before that it’s impossible to see it for anything more than a cheap knockoff.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An opening crawl’s worth of lore is narrated by Anthony Hopkins as an evil dreadnought appears out of space and moves past the camera, which then pans down to a desert planet to reveal a young orphan farmer. No, the projectionist (or the Netflix server) didn’t accidentally play A New Hope, it just started the biggest edge lord wannabe since Todd Phillips’ Joker (that one at least boasted a high level of competence).
Our young hero is Kora (Sofia Boutella), who harbors a traumatic past with the fascist Motherworld, led by Ed Skrien’s Admiral Atticus Noble, donning every piece of Nazi regalia except for the swastika. Kora knows that the arrival of Noble means death for her quant farming village, but none of the other villagers take the danger seriously enough. The consequence of their underestimation is tragedy, prompting Kora to travel the galaxy assembling a team of warriors to fight back against the evil that encroaches on the people she cares about.
That synopsis might seem simple enough (as it should because you’ve literally seen it before), but nothing is simple about the way Snyder tiringly doles it out. The who, what, where, when, and why are in a constant state of vagueness, masked by unclear exposition and uninteresting politics. At some point, you just have to throw your hands in the air and simplify it down to Kora being Luke Skywalker, Noble being Darth Vader, the Motherworld being The Empire, and Charlie Hunnam playing the Han Solo-type. What does that mean for the other half-dozen characters that don’t fit into that mold? It actually doesn’t matter because they hardly matter either, almost all of them serving more as action figures than believable mortals.
But action figures deserve good action set pieces. And except for a genuinely cool fight between Doona Bae’s samurai witch and an Arachne, there isn’t a moment that inspires the eyegasm Synder so desperately wants you to have. He employs the typical slow-fast-slow speed-toggling at such a predictable clip that you’d wish it was eligible to be gambled on. The gore is also toned down considerably through choppy editing. That aspect has been lumped in with the individual character backstories as the main selling points for the future Snyder Cut, which promises to fix all the problems they’ve readily admitted feature in this cut.
Those extra hours will include more opportunities for Snyder - serving as his own DP again after Army of the Dead (who the hell let that happen!?) - to indulge in his ultra-shallow focus cinematography. It’s not as ugly as before, but it still backfires to expose the artificiality of the sets and incessant visual effects used to cover it up. Returning to George Lucas, there were a few moments here that made the digital backdrops from the prequel films seem photorealistic.
I don’t know where the story goes next in the soon-to-come sequel The Scargiver; not because Snyder ended it on an interesting note, but because I’m still baffled about everything that happened and what it all means going forward. Honestly, it takes true talent to cheat this intensely and still fail so hard.