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Review: Zack Snyder’s Space Opera Rebel Moon Part 1 Does Absolutely Nothing to Get You Invested in a Part 2

Filmmaker Zack Snyder has spent much of his past decade in superhero world, as well as a return to the zombies, the subject of his early-career remake of Dawn of the Dead. The fact that he hasn’t been roped into directing a Star Wars movie is surprising, but less so, when you realize that the filmmaker, often referred to as a “visionary,” would probably want to very much do his own thing. That brings us to Rebel Moon Part 1 – , which could be seen as Snyder’s take on the epic sci-fi space opera. It sounds good on paper, but does the filmmaker behind 300 and Watchmen deliver? Read on.

On the planet of Veldt, we’re introduced to the small farming village where Sofia Boutella’s Kora has been helping the peaceful community with their harvest, along with Michiel Huisman’s Gunnar. When the ruthless Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) turns up with his troops, the people of Veldt know they’re in trouble, but they’re also not in a place to fight for their lives. When some of Noble’s men threaten to assault one of the village’s teenage women, Kora steps up, kills all of them, and then goes on the run with Gunnar to find others who can help them fight the Realm. This leads into a plot straight out of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, similar to how George Lucas borrowed from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress for the original Star Wars in 1977. 

We then meet a number of other bounty hunters and assassins – Charlie Hunnam’s Kai, essentially the film’s Han Solo; Bae Doona’s Nemesis, who even has her own set of light sabers; Djimon Hounsou as General Titus, pretty much the same character he’s been playing forever; Ray Fisher as “Darrian Bloodaxe”; and Staz Nair’s Tarak, who at least has a sequence where he breaks a wild flying creature. There’s no question that Boutella’s Kora is pretty kick-ass during her fight sequences, but she’s not the strongest of actors to ground a movie like this, so the movie resorts to a number of flashbacks to tell Kora’s backstory and her connections to the overlord, Regent Balisarius (Fra Fee), who is mostly being saved for Part 2. Despite so many characters being thrown at you, none of them are particularly interesting, especially the case with Gunnar. He’s set up as a potential love interest for Kora, but Huisman has the personality and charisma of a kitchen sponge… and a dry one at that.

The Not-So-Magnificent 8 of Rebel Moon Part 1 (Netflix)

Part of what Snyder does try to introduce in his sci-fi epic is all sorts of “cool” creatures and gizmos that no one has seen before, but even the most innovative of ideas has DNA in other things we’ve seen before, whether it’s The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings or Avatar, or any of much better sci-fi/fantasy epics.  There are even stranger elements that may have been inspired by David Lynch‘s Dune, rather than the more recent multiple Oscar winner. Rebel Moon just makes it more obvious why James Cameron is a master at what he does.

Granted, a movie like this is meant to be seen on a big screen, probably why Snyder and his team made it, so it’s a shame that like with most Netflix movies, it will only get a nominal theatrical release. Take away any big-screen spectacle, and Rebel Moon is just a lot of bad writing, bad acting and bad accents, which do not make for a good combination. Regardless, it doesn’t matter how many big explosions or CG are thrown your way, nothing can get you to care about so many poorly-realized characters.

Ed Skrein in Rebel Moon Part 1 (Netflix)

I’ve often complained about the fact that film critics seem to tune out and have no interest in giving movies a fair shake once mid-December comes. In the case of Rebel Moon, any critical ennui is well-deserved and earned, because we’ve come to expect better from Snyder and his creative collaborators. Snyder, who acts as his own cinematographer, works with a lot of those he worked with on Zack Snyder’s Justice League, including Composer Tom Holkenborg and VFX Supe “DJ” Des Jardin, but they’re all clearly working to support the vision of their director, which just doesn’t seem to be as on point as some of his earlier movies.

The story plods along with a few action sequences, lots of explosions, a face-off against Noble, and then it just crashes to an end with the group back on Veldt. Make no mistake that this is only half a movie and not one that sets anything up in a way that anyone will absolutely need to see what happens next right away. In some ways, one of the more interesting (though still derivative) characters is the philosophical sentient robot, voiced by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who sadly, does not go on the main journey, but returns later wearing elk horns, for reasons we’ll have to try to care enough to watch that second part.

Jimmy the robot aka Rebel Moon’s C3P0 (as voiced by Sir Anthony Hopkins) (Netflix)

The killer is that Rebel Moon Part 1 is being released just a few short months after Gareth Edwards’ excellent The Creator, and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, which despite being the third chapter in a far-spanning studio franchise, shows a filmmaker that understands the concept of space opera and having characters that the viewers can root for, which Snyder clearly does not.

To wrap things up, if you’re going to try your hand at world-building, maybe do so without cherry-picking from so many other existing movie worlds, because anyone older than 13 will immediately know all the references and realize there are much better movies they could be watching. Rebel Moon Part 1 might be one of Snyder’s worst efforts to date. It’s just dull and derivative, with very little to warrant there even being a Part 2, and therefore, just an atrocious waste of time and money.

Talent: D
Story: D
Crafts: B
Awards Potential: Possible Razzies?
Box Office Potential: Netflix doesn’t report box office. Sorry!
Renewability: Part 2 is already scheduled for release in April 2024.

Overall Score: D+

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire will be released in select cities on Dec. 15 before hitting Netflix streaming on Dec. 21.

Studio: Netflix
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnam, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Djimon Housou, Stuart Martin, Bae Doona, Ray Fisher, Cleopatra Coleman, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriter: Shay Hatten, Kurt Johnstad, Zack Snyder
Producers: Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder,
DP: Zack Snyder
Production Design: Stefan Dechant, Stephen Swain
Costume Design: Stephanie Portnoy Porter
Editor: Dody Dorn
Score by: Tom Holkenborg

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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