Rebel Moon is a knock-off of Star Wars that wants you to think it’s more grand and important than it actually is. It’s a bad movie that offers absolutely nothing and bored me from beginning to end.
There. That’s the review. I don’t know what else you were expecting from a filmmaker who was emboldened by rabid fans who have deified him to a frankly absurd degree, but them’s the breaks. Rebel Moon isn’t an affront to cinema, but it’s everything you would expect from a filmmaker who hasn’t been told no in a long time. It’s excessive, pointless, and frankly, the movie as it is a waste of everybody’s time.
But fine, if you want to see me go into intense detail and try to muster up some rage at a film that is probably Zack Snyder’s most indulgent and thoughtless feature, then I’ll be happy to oblige. It is the holiday season after all and I need to be a Scrooge about something now so I can enjoy the deluge of great movies that were released this week, so it’s time for a good old-fashioned venting session. Happy holidays!
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Rebel Moon – Part 1: A Child of Fire
Director: Zack Snyder
Release Date: December 15, 2023 (Theatrical), December 22, 2023 (Netflix)
After engaging with Zack Snyder’s films throughout my career as a film critic, I can safely say that Snyder is a director that works well within a given framework. If you give him too much freedom, you tend to get projects lacking in many different areas. I’ve stated before that Watchmen is an excellent movie not just because it’s really hard to screw up Alan Moore’s original graphic novel, but because Warner Bros. made sure that he stuck relatively close to the script. Once they began to trust him more and gave him more leeway, then you have films like the early grimdark DCEU movies such as Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League. You can actually watch in real-time how Warner Bros. kept trying to walk back more and more decisions he made and how it negatively affected their plans for a cinematic universe, ultimately resulting in its recent death.
I bring this all up because Rebel Moon has no real framework and you can tell Snyder was told he can do whatever the hell he wanted. The film is designed to be the first part in a two-part series meant to kick off a much larger franchise with this first film lasting two and a half hours, except that this version of the film isn’t the real version Snyder wants you to see. Instead, he thinks the 4-hour R-rated Director’s cut is the superior version and will blow audiences’ minds.
So why does this version of the film exist?
No really, why did we get this version of the film? Why did Netflix and Snyder opt to release a version of a film that is almost certainly going to be rendered obsolete in the span of a few months? What is the benefit of this? Because of this, when I sat down to watch Rebel Moon, all I could focus on was just how lifeless it all was, almost by design. Action scenes feel weird because they hard cut away from any notable violence. Due to this, nearly every action scene lacks impact and power, instead coming across as trying to convey the idea of action without actually showing any of it. It’s like Rebel Moon is trying to convince us that what’s happening onscreen is important and awesome but absolutely cannot back any of it up.
The film’s premise is about how an evil empire, here called the Motherworld, is laying siege across the galaxy and destroying any opposition to their rule. This includes hunting for a group of rebels known as the Bloodaxes, which couldn’t sound more 90s if they tried. After an admiral of the Motherworld, Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), shows up on a small farming planet to force cooperation, a former empire soldier hiding out named Kora (Sofia Boutella), decides that enough is enough and tries to reach the Bloodaxes to defend their planet. To do that, she needs to assemble a group of mercenaries to help… for some reason.
Yeah, that’s this thing with Rebel Moon, at least in the version presented to us: not a whole lot is explained about its characters or plot. Oh sure, we do learn quite a bit about how and why the Motherworld came to power and the political machinations that led to the evil emperor being in charge, but the actual moment-to-moment plot progression doesn’t get much development. The characters all are cardboard cutouts who get maybe a single scene to shine before being quickly shuffled to being a part of the group. They don’t even have distinguishable personalities other than “hardened badass.” They’re interchangeable and Rebel Moon can’t be bothered to explain anything more than that. They’re important because the film says they’re important.
Take Doona Bae’s cyborg swordswoman, Nemesis. She’s introduced in a fight against this random spider-monster and then she slinks into the background for the remainder of the movie, not contributing anything meaningful to the events of the film. So why does the character exist? Because she has a single action scene to her name that can be used in trailers. All of the action scenes feel like they’re made for trailers because they lack any substance. The action that does matter, like the climax, doesn’t get any proper development because so much time was spent on extraneous moments for non-essential characters. The climax just comes right out of nowhere and then suddenly the film ends with a teaser of things to come. It promises a growing conflict, but I don’t want to see what this conflict could be.
I don’t want to explore this world. At all. Rebel Moon was, apparently, pitched as a more mature Star Wars movie and it shows because it doesn’t understand what makes Star Wars interesting. It has an in-depth mythology with a varied cast of characters all with their own charms and unique personalities, but Zack Snyder doesn’t really understand stuff like variety or emotional range so most of the cast in Rebel Moon all seem so stiff and bored. Sofia Boutella is especially dull here since she comes across as humorless and cold in nearly every scene. Star Wars had a universe that you wanted to explore and learn more about, but Rebel Moon is so dry that I couldn’t be bothered to engage with it further.
See, Zack Snyder has this idea of what a sci-fi action movie should be. He understands the broad strokes of what makes a good sci-fi movie, but because no one is around to tell him that his ideas are bad, he went ahead and made a world that is probably a lot more interesting in his head than it is in reality. What Snyder thinks is cool is probably what a lot of teenagers think is cool. Action, stoic heroes, a dark and oppressive atmosphere, and the complete and total absence of a color palette. I feel like if I saw Rebel Moon when I was a preteen I would be absolutely in love with it, much in the same way that teenagers loved 300 when it first came out. Now as an adult, I can see it for the monotonous and bland experience it is. There’s no levity, no variety, nothing breaking up the pace. It’s just a dirge of sci-fi tropes that can’t be bothered to say or do anything meaningful with it.
Rebel Moon is a viscerally underwhelming film on multiple different levels. The cast barely exists and the film can barely justify its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. I can’t possibly fathom how a 4-hour version could make the film better, but that’s neither here nor there. What is here simply isn’t good for a multitude of reasons and the only way I can imagine people finished watching this movie with any positive opinions is because they’re already diehard Zack Snyder fans. If you liked the film, more power to you, but I would highly recommend nearly every other sci-fi movie that came out this year over Rebel Moon. They may not be flawless experiences, but they’re more coherent and worth your time than Rebel Moon is.