“Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire” stars Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnam, Ray Fisher, Michiel Huisman, Djimon Hounsou, Doona Bae, Jena Malone, Ed Skrein, Cleopatra Coleman, Fra Fee, and Anthony Hopkins. Released in limited theaters on December 15, 2023, followed by a Netflix release on December 22, 2023, the film has a young woman attempting to save the galaxy from a ruthless regent.
The film was directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed films such as “300”, “Watchmen,” “Man of Steel,” and “Army of the Dead.” Aside from family-friendly cartoons, feel-good stories, and movie musicals, the holiday season wasn’t without an imaginative sci-fi adventure to excite the movie-going audience. Disney has Star Wars, and James Cameron brings his creative mind to the world of Pandora in “Avatar”. Now, it was Zack Snyder’s turn to bring an intergalactic adventure to life during the winter season. After making a solid comeback with his first Netflix movie since leaving the DC universe behind, Snyder joined the streaming service once more to deliver an original space opera full of corruption, war, and violence. In other words, it’s “Star Wars” if Zack Snyder had his way. If hanging out with an aquatic superhero wasn’t on your holiday to-do list, then it’s possible that exploring Snyder’s grim galactic world might be. But was it exciting enough to continue Snyder’s winning streak with Netflix? Let’s find out.
The movie takes place in a futuristic universe, which is controlled by the Motherworld. The Motherworld uses its military army, the Imperium, led by the tyrannical ruler Regent Balisarius (Fee), to maintain “order” across the galaxy. It’s like the Empire from “Star Wars”, but more ruthless. The story centers on Kora (Boutella), a former member of the Imperium seeking redemption for her past. When the Imperium threatens the moon of Veldt, Kora and her farmer ally Gunnar (Huisman) travel across the galaxy to recruit the universe's most formidable warriors to aid them. The members include former general Titus (Hounsou), mercenary Kai (Hunnam), and cyborg sword master Nemesis (Bae). With her crew in tow, Kora makes a stand against the Imperium as she attempts to overthrow Regent Balisarius and bring peace to the galaxy and herself.
Like my experience with the previous Netflix films I reviewed recently, I didn’t find the time to watch “Rebel Moon” until now due to my holiday plans. There were plenty of things in the film that caught my interest, including Snyder and the film’s ambitious sci-fi presentation. Sadly, my Christmas plans got the better of me because, again, nothing’s more important than spending time with family. Man, I’m just about one step away from becoming Dominic Toretto. Thankfully, my recent plans were spaced out enough (no pun intended) for me to finally check it out, especially since part two is releasing in April. With the film being split into two parts and expanded into a franchise, this could mean that Snyder might be cooking something special for our science fiction taste buds. Of course, the only problem that made a huge difference was that he’s releasing an R-rated extended cut of the film soon. After finally watching this gorgeously bleak sci-fi epic, I can definitely see why. While it’s another movie that emphasizes Snyder’s visually stunning presentation, it’s not enough to overcome its familiarity on a narrative and thematic scale.
One of the most common things I heard about “Rebel Moon” is that it’s a cross between “Star Wars” and Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”, with the former centering on a rebellion against those with power. It also happens to be inspired by Heavy Metal, with its logo paying homage to the magazines. I only heard about “Seven Samurai” through my research, but I am a pretty big fan of “Star Wars,” so that’s more than enough for me to get attached to “Rebel Moon" easily. These inspirations allowed Snyder to create something unique and mesmerizing with his world-building and characters to differentiate from those that came before it. Unfortunately, Snyder instead used them as shortcuts to craft a subpar, by-the-numbers space opera with neither the charm nor the emotion of the classics that inspired it.
Part of that is due to the screenplay Snyder wrote with his collaborators Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten. I have no doubt Zack Snyder has ambition in his filmmaking skills, especially when handling the cinematography and speed-ramping sequences. His passion for creating epic storylines through his artistic presentation, style, and visuals is still something I admire. However, “Rebel Moon” showcased that his writing struggled to reach the same amount of ambition as his admirable direction. The script had plenty of intrigue in these characters and themes, especially its depiction of redemption and hope amid a controlled society ruled by those with power. Those themes reside in the film’s protagonist, Kora, whose quest led her to regain her belief in hope following her actions working for the Motherworld. Sadly, it didn’t do much to emphasize the depth of those elements regarding the dialogue and genre tropes.
It’s easy to see why Snyder wanted to release the R-rated extended cut of “Rebel Moon” because it felt like it left out several parts that could’ve made them more well-rounded. In addition to several sequences edited to fit the PG-13 rating, the movie also lacked the desire to showcase more of its supporting characters, making them one-dimensional expendables. I think if they remade it as a television series instead of a feature-length film, it would’ve given the creators more opportunities to expand their characters and the world built for “Rebel Moon” and provide actual stakes to get more people interested in the brand. Don’t get me wrong. The production designs were pretty darn good for its bleak, galactic locations. It’s that there’s not enough of this universe for me to get myself fully invested. Maybe that’ll change once part two and the film’s extended cut come out, but we’ll see.
While the characters don’t have enough moments to be memorable, the cast behind them made the most of this predicament through their performances. They’re not spectacular, but I wouldn’t call them terrible, either. Sofia Boutella has had a pretty interesting career as a supporting actress since she made herself known to the public in “Kingsman.” By that, I mean she played an alien warrior in “Star Trek Beyond” and an undead Egyptian princess in the failed “Mummy” reboot. “Rebel Moon” saw Boutella taking on the challenge of carrying the film as the main character instead of taking the back seat regarding her role of Kora. The best thing I can say about Boutella’s performance is that she captured Kora’s ruthless yet internally troubling personality reasonably well. Djimon Hounsou and Anthony Hopkins also provided some decent moments as Titus and Jimmy, a mechanical knight, respectively, despite the latter having a minuscule role. However, I would say that Michiel Huisman was the weakest of the bunch, as his performance as Gunnar was as flat as an intergalactic pancake.
Another element that elevated “Rebel Moon” was the visuals. As I mentioned earlier, Zack Snyder can do no wrong with his engaging stylistic choices regarding his direction and cinematography. However, he’s also no stranger to making the visual effects coincide flawlessly with his presentation, and “Rebel Moon” is no exception. From its bleak and expansive galactic environments to the creature designs, “Rebel Moon” is science-fiction art that’s engrossing and grimly imaginative, something that only Snyder can accomplish. This film and the upcoming second part shared a budget of $166 million, further showing that you don’t need to spend more than ten mansions’ worth to provide this type of visual craft in a blockbuster. With how grand and impressive the visual effects looked in “Rebel Moon”, it’s still upsetting that it didn’t play at the cinema closest to my location during its limited theatrical run.
Overall, “Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire” lacks strong narrative reinforcements to rebel against its familiarity and underwhelming genre tropes despite coming equipped with its visually stunning presentation. There’s no doubt Snyder remains a respectable filmmaker with plenty of ambition in his gloomy yet stylish vision and visual flair. However, there’s still much to be desired regarding his storytelling, as he relied heavily on its shortcuts to craft a narrative structure instead of using the cliches to make a great one. Regarding its passable cast, decent cinematography, enjoyable action scenes, and strong visuals, the movie is a subpar beginning of Snyder’s sci-fi universe that’ll likely impress his fans. Sadly, the film’s derivative plot, formulaic screenplay, weak characters, and mediocre attempts at providing emotion made it one of the director’s weakest entries in his filmography. Fortunately, my disappointment isn’t enough to damper my interest in the extended cut and the upcoming second part, slated for release in April. Hopefully, these releases will be enough to change my mind about this potential sci-fi franchise for Netflix.