Rebel Moon Part One: A Child of Fire

With part two releasing tomorrow, I have been spurned into action – I must complete my review of Zack Snyder’s REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE. To summarize my Snyder history, I’m a fan. In the eras of SUCKER PUNCH, OWL 300 and MAN OF STEEL I seemed to like him more than the next guy, then I fell off as the true Zack Zealots and ZAnons began their ascent. But I still enjoy all of his movies on some level, and love some of them.

REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE is, uh… the short version of the first half of his long-awaited take on the space opera genre. Squirted onto Netflix with extreme fanfare and modest response, it’s unclear when the promised director’s cut will ever be released. But even in this abbreviated form it manages to have plenty of the self indulgence that defines a Zack Snyder film – it’s what powers his rockets, and also what gets him too close to the sun. On first viewing I felt this leaned closer to the latter, that it was one of his worst, but that I still got a kick out of it. Then I watched it a second time yesterday and it was better than I remembered. I cannot tell a lie. I kinda dig it. Not every “new Star Wars” has to really be the new Star Wars. There’s room in my heart for a new CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. This is way more fun to watch than SPACE RAIDERS or KRULL or METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN or even SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE although that one’s kinda good.

REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE stars an underrated favorite of mine, dancer turned badass physical actor Sofia Boutella (STREETDANCE 2, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, STAR TREK BEYOND, THE MUMMY, ATOMIC BLONDE, CLIMAX, HOTEL ARTEMIS, PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND), as Kora, a hard-working farmer who reveals a more dramatic past when her village is under threat. She’s more like a western or action movie hero than Luke Skywalker, but the STAR WARS comparison is impossible to miss, especially if you know there was a version of this Snyder pitched to Lucasfilm right before they were sold to Disney. Turns out it’s an old idea he had in film school that he considered reworking into Star Wars, and ultimately into this.

I’m sure even his original day dream version had his spin on all the main Star Wars ingredients: scrappy rebels banding together to fight a technologically superior fascist empire, friendly droids, alien bounty hunters, he even has the balls to throw in a pair of swords that light up like light sabers. In the early scenes I worried that he was repeating a mistake of many previous off-brand Star Warses: making it differ from the source only in the ways that it’s not nearly as cool. For example, the original STAR WARS communicated to us why Luke’s life on the moisture farm was, to him, very boring, while also making it exciting and otherworldly for us. Kora’s life (which she loves so much she picks up a clomp of dirt and smells it lovingly while plowing a field) is a bunch of generic extras with medeivialish clothes, bushy beards and European accents, drinking ale and dancing to fiddle music, like a bland fantasy village on any syndicated ‘90s TV show where they go to the past, another planet or another dimension. But happily REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE gets past that stuff quickly.

Instead of the Empire they have the Imperium, brutal colonizers from a place called the Motherworld. For thousands of generations it was ruled by kings, and it sounds like it was just as bad, but when the last king and queen were assassinated some of the planets “started to whisper of revolution,” so a military man turned senator named Balisarius (Fra Fee, LES MISERABLES) declared himself Regent and sent “his most brutal commander,” Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL), to destroy the insurgents.

Kora has spent two seasons farming in a village on Veldt when Noble lands and meets with the “father” of the village, Sindri (Corey Stoll, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN). I love the touch that this sadistic villain introduces himself as “advocate for the slain king,” says “I welcome you to his warm embrace,” and gives Sindri a long hug. Hand on the back of his head and everything. He offers to buy grain for his soldiers at triple market value, but Sindri says their land isn’t fertile enough to have any surplus. Unfortunately Gunnar (Michiel Huisman, BLACK BOOK, KATE, The Haunting of Hill House), a farmer with an obvious crush on Kora, pulls an Ellis and tries to make a deal to sell just a little bit from their “reserves.” So Noble beats the father to death and says he’ll return for 5/6ths of their harvest in ten weeks.

Den (Stuart Martin, ARMY OF THIEVES), a more macho hunter guy who Kora has sex with but won’t commit to, is just as dumb as Gunnar. He says if they work super hard they’ll be too valuable for the fascists to kill. “Do we agree? Our work fights for us!” Kora doesn’t argue, she exasperatedly puts her hand on her forehead, goes home and packs, because she knows the truth all too well. You see, she used to be one of them. Her elite fighting skills are revealed when she sees the soldiers left behind by the Imperium about to rape a local teen and decides to intervene.

One of the most interesting touches is that while the officers, like Star Wars’ Galactic Empire, are styled as space nazis, the ground troops are a sci-fi-ified version of a modern military – i.e. ours. They wear armor with fanciful designs carved into it, but the shape and colors and pouches look like the tactical gear of the western coalition troops that have occupied the Middle East since the Bush era. They have buzz cuts, they displace people from their homes, they enjoy casual war crimes.

One futuristic piece of military equipment is a fold-up robot nicknamed Jimmy, voiced by Anthony Hopkins (TITUS, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT). They say you don’t see these much anymore because something in their programming caused them to stop fighting after the king died. One of the soldiers, Marcus (Greg Kriek), think it’s funny to shoot at him, since he won’t fight back. So Jimmy carries equipment and finds time to befriend a local girl, Sam (Charlotte Maggi), who happens to be the soldiers’ intended victim. Jimmy shows up wearing the flowers she tied around his head and kills the last soldier to save Kora. So it’s a double UNFORGIVEN – two retired killers reluctantly picking up their guns again. (Also ax in Kora’s case.)

Kora was gonna run, because putting up a fight would be suicide. But now that she killed those soldiers, she has no choice but to put up a fight. She and Gunnar go into the city of Providence to search for a connection to a rebel militia he once sold grain to. The REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE version of the STAR WARS cantina looks closer to a saloon in a western, and its version of the “You’ll be dead!” guy is a sleaze who tries to purchase Gunnar from Kora for sex. Some of the aliens here are pretty cool, like the squid who talks by using tentacles to control a human who’s either dead or unconscious. Others look like just some dude that would be on Angel or something. There is no Chewbacca, but there’s a Han Solo named Kai (Charlie Hunnam, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD), who gives them a ride off the planet and makes a big deal about how he’s only doing it for the money.

There is some pretty on-the-nose dialogue (8 minutes in she’s making a speech about how she was raised not to believe in love), and they use that trope where she’s telling someone her story and it becomes a flashback that she’s narrating but the tone and dramatic language of the narration would be really funny if she was still sitting at the campfire talking to a person. Anyway she admits that not only was she a member of the Imperium, but the young Balisarius himself plucked her up as a child after killing her family, raised her as his daughter and a soldier. She conquered worlds but eventually turned against them so she’s the most highly sought fugitive in the Realm.

They fly around to different planets recruiting a team to defend the village. She knows to look for a former general who, like her, turned against the Motherworld. Titus is played by Djimon Hounsou from the movie GLADIATOR and they find him working as a gladiator like in the movie GLADIATOR. (We don’t see him fight, though.) He says he’s not interested, there’s no redeeming him, she says if you don’t want redemption, why not revenge, and that’s enough to convince him, thanks to the swelling music of Tom Holkenborg’s score.

Kai suggests a couple people, each introduced with a little mini-adventure. Tarak (Staz Nair, Game of Thrones) is a shirtless longhair muscle guy who’s enslaved on some farm. He says he’d love to fight but he can’t leave because he owes a debt to this guy. The guy says he’ll let him go if he can tame a wild beast for him, kind of a griffin I guess – a giant thing with a bird’s head and wings on a cat’s body. Tarak calms the creature down and flies around on his back, a fun scene though it’s hard not to think of the very similar but better one in AVATAR. Luckily very few people have seen that movie, and I’ve been told that no one remembers it.

Also they find Nemesis (Doona Bae, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, CLOUD ATLAS, JUPITER ASCENDING), a skilled swordswoman with a hat that reminds me of the sisters in KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. They watch her rescue a little girl from a giant spider monster played by Jena Malone (FOR LOVE OF THE GAME). Not just voiced – she’s made up kinda like the Borg Queen but with extra eyes and attached to an animated spider body. One of her great roles.

There are many goofy things in REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE, but to me the goofiest is the role Snyder gave Ray Fisher. That’s the stage actor he plucked from obscurity to play Cyborg in JUSTICE LEAGUE, it seemed like a huge break, meant to set up a solo film, before the movie was poorly received. Though he did get a role on True Detective season 3, he became known mainly for making accusations against JUSTICE LEAGUE replacement director Joss Whedon and executive Walter Hamada. Unfortunately I think ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE proves that actually the Cyborg stuff made sense as the first thing to cut out, but most people seem to disagree with me on that, and Fisher proved right about Whedon. So it was really cool that Snyder made him part of his repertory troupe and gave him a character in REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE.

Except he plays a rebel named Darrian Bloodaxe! Let me repeat that. The name they wrote down and then went ahead and stuck with is Darrian Bloodaxe. His sister Devra Bloodaxe (Cleopatra Coleman, STEP UP REVOLUTION, INFINITY POOL, COBWEB), of the Shasu Bloodaxes (I checked a wiki on fandom.com) is the leader of the rebels, and Darrian Bloodaxe seems to be like a general or something. But he’s basically in three scenes:

1) A pretty cool introduction where Devra turns down Kora’s request for help, but when she explains how the rebels buying grain from the village led to the Imperium coming down on them Darrian says he’ll go, and makes a rousing speech inspiring some of his troops to join him.

2) A few scenes later (BIG ENDING SPOILER) the group are betrayed and captured by Noble. Darrian is not the focus of the scene, but he’s in it.

3) They escape and begin fighting and Darrian starts running in slow motion. We realize from the sound cutting out and the anguished look on the face of his loyal sidekick Milius (Elise Duffy) that he’s about to make a heroic sacrifice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cool death. It’s just strange that it plays as a heart-crushing moment that will shake each and every viewer to their core. We just met this guy! Yeah, life is precious, it’s sad that a guy died. I will send you a condolence card, but don’t expect me to give the eulogy. I barely know that guy!

If we were supposed to feel like we’d spent some time with Darrian Bloodaxe then that’s a strong argument against releasing the digest version years in advance of the real one. Or maybe they should’ve sent us all copies of the Titan Books publication Rebel Moon Part One – A Child of Fire: The Official Movie Novelization by V. Castro so we could find out more about him. On the other hand the ludicrousness of how it plays out is some of the purest joy I got out of REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE, so I kinda gotta support it.

We all know George Lucas’ story was loosely inspired by THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, and of course when Kora set out to recruit warriors to protect her village I realized, duh, he’s doing SEVEN SAMURAI in space, a.k.a. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS on Netflix. And I was excited! Great premise, great structure, can’t go wrong with that. But then I thought oh shit, this isn’t REBEL MOON, this is REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE. What, are they just gonna recruit them and then it’s over?

Not quite, because then there’s that BIG ENDING SPOILER I mentioned. I will spoil bigger and tell you it’s Kai who betrays them, which is kinda clever. He straight up tells them he’s an opportunist, and we assume that means he’ll grow to believe in something like Han Solo, but no, he stays an opportunist, and takes the opportunity of the team recruiting to gather up a bunch of high paying bounties. This also plays like the end of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK when Lando betrays Han and friends to Vader, except he doesn’t do it reluctantly, and won’t have a chance to redeem himself.

What’s great about this twist is that it makes halfway-through-SEVEN-SAMURAI into a satisfying chapter ending. Our team of warriors aren’t training the villagers to defend themselves yet, but they are having a big preview battle where they each get to do their thing, and Kora even fights Noble one-on-one and punches him hard in the dick, among other indignities.

The downside of that is that since this feels like a legitimate climax, it also feels like we should have spent some time with these characters and gotten to know them, but we definitely haven’t, at least in this version. The script by Snyder & Kurt Johnstad (TRUE VENGEANCE, ACT OF VALOR, ATOMIC BLONDE) & Shay Hatten (JOHN WICK 3 and 4, ARMY OF THE DEAD, DAY SHIFT, BALLERINA) deals with that by having Noble go around the circle describing who each of his prisoners are and what they’re about. Oh shit, Nemesis is on a vengeance mission ‘cause they killed her kids? Okay. I kinda like that method of exposition actually, it just feels like it should be early in the movie instead of at the end.

When I was growing up I had this friend up the street whose parents really spoiled him with toys. He had everything. So sometimes we would bring all these boxes of his stuff into his backyard and set them up on the picnic table, combining them all into one mythology. The GI Joes and the Star Wars figures were the main guys, the smaller M.A.S.K. figures were their kids, the larger Masters of the Universe were giant aliens. That’s kind of what REBEL MOON PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE is like. They got some Star Wars guys, a Tarzan, a Furiosa, a ship from Star Blazers, there’s even a little dash of THE MATRIX and/or GHOST IN THE SHELL at the end. Doesn’t necessarily all feel natural together, but I’ll go with it.

There’s a big advantage to Snyder doing bootleg Star Wars instead of official. He gets to fully do his thing, is not constrained by any rules or continuity or future plans. And we don’t have to hold anything sacred, like when we don’t like his interpretations of DC super heroes – nobody is gonna be posting #NotMyDarrianBloodaxe. And it’s new stuff. Not things we’ve seen before. No nostalgic references possible, that’s nice.

On the other hand, honestly, Lucasfilm would’ve made sure it looked better. Their aliens would be cooler, their digital backgrounds would be prettier. This looks fine, there are some good looking scenes, but it’s disappointing for one of the great visualists of the 2000s to make the sci-fi movie that’s uglier than the other guys’. Coming from music videos and commercials, his early movies always looked so slick it could carry him even at his least coherent, like SUCKER PUNCH. That movie looks stunning! I know Netflix doesn’t have the budgets or infrastructure WB offered him, and he’s also been working as his own cinematographer. I understand that that’s going back to his roots, and I’m glad he didn’t do the same techniques here that he did on ARMY OF THE DEAD. But the man is no Matthew F. Leonetti, Larry Fong, Amir Mokri or Fabian Wagner, from what we’ve seen so far.

But there’s always some aspect or other that nags at me in a Zack Snyder movie. I don’t know if he’s ever made a movie that isn’t kind of a mess, and I don’t know if I want him to. Maybe these can’t exist in any other form. You gotta splatter the paint around until it looks about right. We’ll see soon enough how drippy REBEL MOON PART TWO: THE SCARGIVER is.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 18th, 2024 at 1:07 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “Rebel Moon Part One: A Child of Fire”

  1. Great review, I have similar felling about Snyder (I consider myself a fan but not blind to his short comings), and had a similar response to this one. I am curious if the extend cut will fix some of my issues with the structure & lack of character development, this cut felt rushed and/or incomplete at times.

  2. By most people’s definitions I’m a Zack Snyder fan but I just have no idea whatsoever why I (or anyone, really) would have watched this. It’s half of a movie. It kinda feels insulting to me to even suggest that I watch it. Snyder came out and said before it came out that it’s half a movie, that the only reason it’s not a whole movie is because Netflix has data that shows that people are more likely to watch a movie if it’s under two hours so he had to split his one movie into two and release them months apart. At least it’s on Netflix so people didn’t pay for it specifically, that’s the only reason the idea isn’t *completely* outrageous.

    Anyway, part two will be out soon but I’m still not going to watch it because Snyder has already promised a directors cut. I looked it up and he guessed in a recent interview that it’ll probably come out in August. I’ll wait for that. I’m a fan of Snyder but not so much a fan that I want to watch his first drafts. If I knew at the time there was a better version of BvS coming out later I wouldn’t have bothered with the theatrical version. This time I appreciate the forewarning.

  3. I consider myself a former Snyder fan. His visuals used to be something special, and they made it worth the effort to make sense of his loopy storytelling and faulty dramatics. That’s gone now. The loss of that surface-level beauty has made the ugliness of his stories stand out. He’s just not fun anymore. How is it even possible for someone so shallow to be so pretentious? Throw in all the bullshit with his cult and his habit of being completely incapable of releasing what he considers a completed film, with a mythical director’s cut that will assuredly fix all the problems, HIGHLANDER II-style, always just around the corner, and you’ve got a filmmaker who’s just not worth the aggravation anymore, and certainly not for a proposed six-film “trilogy” of director’s cuts set in a fanfic sci-fi universe that feels like an abandoned roleplaying campaign.

    I mean, he’s talking about a SUCKER PUNCH director’s cut. THERE’S ALREADY A SUCKER PUNCH DIRECTOR’S CUT IT HAS JOHN HAMM IN IT IT IS ON BLU-RAY. I can’t even with this guy.

  4. The whole directors cut thing seemed like a really transparent attempt by netflix to recreate the snyder cut hype but I think we can all agree on one thing.

    We better get to see the bad guy fuck the space octopus in the directors cut.

  5. I never was a Snyder fan, but I liked his Romero remake and usually gave his stuff a chance… until BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. I don’t like his aesthetics that much, and no visuals could redeem that turgid mess as far as I’m concerned. This one always looked like self-indulgent fluff, the review confirms it doesn’t even look that good (and that the plot and storytelling is a disaster), plus it’s produced by netflix, which is always a mark against. Not interested in the least.

    However, it did result in this review, which is more entertaining than anything Snyder’s done in ages – so I’m glad it got made!

  6. I’ve always said I evaluate movies the way I evaluate people, and I have since learned this was inaccurate. I don’t.

    I felt that, when dealing with people, it’s surprising how few of us consider what, to me, is the most important element: is this person an idiot? Are they incapable of higher thought? Too often, I think people get
    bogged down in thinking, is this person “strong”, or is this person “funny” or is this person “poor” or whatever, when I feel like the most important aspect is whether someone is capable of being thoughtful (which explains how we elected a sub-wit in 2016 to be the most important person in the country, because somehow people were able to get past transparent idiocy).

    But I wasn’t following this in regards to movies. I still don’t. I just watched Samurai Cop 2 before writing this. Of course that was stupid. I regretted it.
    Zack Snyder is obviously a talented guy, and clearly he’s an assertive guy, big personality. Probably a nice guy too.
    But he’s a dope! All of his movies are painfully surface-level. They don’t even have that troubling political undercurrent of his peers like Michael Bay who are always, in certain ways, telling on themselves. Snyder is ONLY skin-deep. His movies are EXACTLY what they’re meant to be. If you hear him in interviews, it’s clear he either disdains or misinterprets subtext — his work is always loud, obvious, overt and completely lacking in thematic depth. Something like “Sucker Punch”, which is filled with a number of detailed shots and diverse tableau that please the eye, is nonetheless aggressively dumb, completely absent of any nuance.

    I can’t believe I sat through this first “Rebel Moon”. Even his gift with visual effects seemed to abandon him, as this was filled with unconvincing CGI and minimal depth of frame. He continues to have a penchant for working with some of the least talented and least expressive actors in Hollywood. About the time a robot jumped into a lake to clean its own face, I figured, yes, this is going to be a very Zack Snyder movie.
    I’ve given this guy so much runway, I can’t believe I’ve seen all his stuff. But I think I’m truly, genuinely done with him. He makes dumb movies. They have other virtues, but these movies are dumb. I could say it in a fancier way, but why bother? Rebel Moon is DUMB.

  7. I still haven’t watch a Snyder flick since 300, the only movie that ever made me turn the sound off halfway because the constant narration pissed me off so much. Honestly nothing to brag about, but still something I like to remind people of.

  8. Thanks for the review, Vern. I appreciate that even with a movie that’s a bit of a turkey, you give it a fair shot and look for stuff to talk about beyond “look how dumb this bit was, what were they thinking?” This one’s definitely an odd duck and arguably shot in the foot by Snyder/Netflix’s weird “split it in two, make PG-13 cuts of it, then release the *really* good versions later on” strategy… but I won’t pretend I’m too good to give a free space opera a try when I’ve watched Central Intelligence just because it was on Amazon Prime. So Snyder has that over Disney’s latest iteration of The Book of Mandosoka.

  9. The Undefeated Gaul

    April 19th, 2024 at 4:35 am

    I also tend to enjoy Snyder’s movies on some level even if they’re objectively not very good, and REBEL MOON PART 1 is no exception. However, I would rank this version of the film only a tiny bit higher than his worst (ARMY OF THE DEAD) because it’s clearly been shortened and watered down. So I am really looking forward to those director’s cuts, because all the elements that are promised (ultraviolence, freaky sex, more time to breathe in the story) seem exactly what’s missing in this version to elevate it to something really fun and entertaining (but still dumb probably).

  10. “Sigh” Just saw THE SCARGIVER. This may be one of the worst films of 2024. Boring and cliche.

  11. I won’t go too far into my typical snide commentary on his Ayn Rand fanboyism that seems to inform almost all of his work. (Or at least not any further than this).

    I will say that even before I learned of that, I always considered him a less interesting and/or talented version of Tarsem Singh.

  12. Just watched THE SCARGIVER myself and it’s one thing to be … inspired … by Kurosawa, but when the end mimics Dave Filoni’s final episode of CLONE WARS with a doomed cruiser falling from the sky but with ABSOLUTELY ZERO of the emotional weight of that sequence is indeed hard to fathom.

    Unsure why we were supposed to care about any of these characters.

    Also, why was Conan using axes?

  13. Like some others, I am waiting on the director’s cuts. Batman v Superman was a mess either way, but at least the director’s cut closed some of the more distracting plot holes (seriously, Luthor’s plot is already convoluted but it makes zero sense in the theatrical version). I actually really love the Extended Cut of Sucker Punch and was glad I saw it first, if I had seen the theatrical version I would have probably dismissed and forgotten about it. So, if I am going to give up 4+ hours of my time, I want all the Snyder excess at once. No half-measures or Diet Snyder, I want to judge the whole fiasco as he intended it. Hopefully its more fun than Army of the Dead.

    Majestyk- To be fair to Snyder, he has ALWAYS said the Sucker Punch blu-ray is not a Director’s Cut. He specifically refers to it as just an Extended Cut because there was more stuff that he wanted that was either not shot/not post-produced or just left out for other reasons. The main difference I remember is he wanted all the main cast (including dead characters) to come out onto a stage and take a bow before a curtain drops and the credits start. So, he has been kicking this can since long before the Snyder Cut fiasco made re-cuts/re-releases seem viable. And I actually hope someone indulges him in this case, as long as it means some more dance sequences make it back into the movie. It always bummed me out those actresses spent a shit ton of time on dance rehearsals and combat training just for 95% of the dance footage to still be cut in the Extended Version (and also their most impressive action fighting the orcs in the courtyard was cut in the theatrical version).

  14. I still havent seen this one because I’m waiting for the director’s cut, but I’ve seen all the other Zach Snyder films. I used to be a fan. I love Watchmen and I’ve watched the dr. Manhattan origin story countless times on its own.

    I just can’t understand how he has completely lost any visual style. From Man of Steel onwards his films have looked one worse than the other. Army of the Dead being the worst one looking just ugly the whole time. So I don’t really have any hope for these Rebel Moon films since based on the trailer this looks as bad as Army of the Dead.

  15. I might have been interested in this although it seems visually kind of okay but probably boring…was waiting for this one to come out although probably still wouldn’t have seen it for a long time. But now that I hear there’s gonna be six of these, fuck THAT.

    I would like to take the time to make sure that everyone knows how extremely intelligent I am, and very cultured.

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