‘Rebel Moon’ Movie Review: Star Wars But Lacking The Charm, Fun, and Memorable World-Building

Rebel Moon Netflix Movie Review Should You WatchRebel Moon Netflix Movie Review Should You Watch

Cr. Clay Enos/Netflix ©2023

Over a decade in the making, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is the new sci-fi space opera from co-writer/director Zack Snyder (Army of the Dead, Justice League, 300). Raised on Star Wars and Akira Kurosawa films, Snyder created the story for the film as a pitch to be a new installment of the Star Wars universe. After that pitch never materialized, Snyder eventually set the film with Netflix after the start of his latest franchise play, Army of the Dead, and its spinoff prequel, Army of Thieves.

Any fan of Snyder’s listed influences for the film would not be surprised by the main plot of the story as it mirrors them almost completely. When a peaceful settlement on the edge of a distant moon finds itself threatened by the armies of a tyrannical ruling force, Kora (Sofia Boutella), a mysterious stranger living among the villagers, becomes their best hope for survival. Tasked with finding trained fighters who will unite with her in making an impossible stand against the Mother World, Kora assembles a small band of warriors – outsiders, insurgents, peasants and orphans of war from different worlds who share a common need for redemption and revenge. As the shadow of an entire Realm bears down on the unlikeliest of moons, a battle over the fate of a galaxy is waged, and in the process, a new army of heroes is formed.

Sound familiar? A rebel alliance banding together to fight a tyrannical evil empire that is taking over the galaxy one planet or system at a time. A small, peaceful farming village in peril. A powerful warrior sets out to find a crew of fellow warriors to protect the village. What next? Is our protagonist going to recruit a pilot from a fight in a bar full of low-life scum? Well, actually … yes. His name is Kai. He’s played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, Triple Frontier).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that George Lucas himself noted that his script for A New Hope was also heavily inspired by the samurai films of Kurosawa; more specifically, Seven Samurai & The Hidden Fortress. However, at least the man shifted genres, created “The Force”, and updated the army to be more influenced by Nazi Germany (“Stormtroopers” name was the dead giveaway).

But here we have Zack Snyder cribbing from both the influences AND the movies of the Star Wars universe to try and create something his own. Again, something that the current state of Star Wars is guilty of themselves. Many critics of The Force Awakens drew several comparisons to A New Hope and largely considered Episode 7 a soft reboot of the original trilogy. So why should anyone be upset with Zack Snyder for creating something just different enough from his influences to make his own version?

Well … because he didn’t shift genres. He didn’t create anything new. He took what made his influences great and took out the personality. The legendary costuming and set designs are replaced by bland, flat, or obvious rip-offs of what came before. Even the things that seem new from his stated muses can seem lifted from some other larger sci-fi influence. Kora’s backstory as a child taken from a land destroyed by a tyrannical leader only to be raised by him and put into the leadership of the people who killed her family seems awfully like the same backstory as Gamora being raised by Thanos after destroying her homeland in the MCU. And then there are the Space Nazis in charge of The Mother World Army. With costuming, haircuts, and even the “Mother World” moniker being almost the exact same as the real life Nazi forces, Snyder doesn’t even bother to create the illusion of difference or even match the genre. We can’t hide every lazy decision in the world building to be attributed to “steampunk”, can we?

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Cleopatra Coleman as Devra Bloodaxe in Rebel Moon – Netflix

Beyond the story elements, there are also major issues with character development and harsh editorial decisions that will now be turfed to the all too common refrain of a superior “Snyder Cut” that will solve all the issues of the original version. The difference here is that Snyder was not forced to make this cut. He agreed that there needed to be a tighter PG-13 version of the film released initially to theaters and then to Netflix. So this is not Warner Brothers having him cut down the Justice League before his version was finally assembled and released after fans forced the issue. This is also not a runtime issue because Netflix didn’t appear to put those restrictions on him. Why would they? For a limited theatrical run and spending its life on a streaming platform? That wouldn’t make any sense.

New cut to be named later aside, the character & editing issues are very real. Each added warrior gathered together has a rushed or fruitless backstory mixed with an equally pointless fight or task to get them on the time. Then, only to have the more significant piece of their history be summarized later by the Admiral while being held. Tarak is a Prince? Nemesis killed 16 high ranking officers out of revenge for her slaughtered children? Those seem relevant in recruiting them I would think, so why are all the interesting things off-screen?

The whole movie seems clogged and forced. Far too many characters lead to a limited time to care & poorly handled exposition of their reason for existing. Hard to be broken up about someone dying in a firefight against the enemy if they only had a couple of lines and a few minutes of screen time. Despite the limitations, performances from Charlie Hunnam as Kai, Ray Fisher as Bloodaxe, Cleopatra Coleman as Devra, & Michiel Huisman as Gunnar seemed to pop at times.

Even the visual EFX work in the film, which was recently placed on the short list for the Academy Awards in the category, seems wildly inconsistent. On the positive, the former battle robot Jimmy (voiced by Sir Anthony Hopkins!) seems extremely well done with a rich texture and unique design; while on the negative, the spider creature Harmada (played by Jenna Malone) looked almost as cheap as the Scorpion King from the early 2000s.

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Sofia Boutella as Kora in Rebel Moon – Netflix ©2023

Overall, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire feels redundant & unnecessary for a sci-fi epic with a sequel coming mere months away. Aping Star Wars but lacking in the charm, fun, & memorable world-building of that universe, Snyder seems to have missed what made his influences so indelible. Largely quality casting can’t overcome the sheer lack of time or depth for its characters. Hard to see a real enthusiasm to see how this story ends this Spring.

Watch Rebel Moon on Netflix If You Liked

  • Star Wars
  • Seven Samurai
  • Dune (2021)
  • 300
  • Sucker Punch

MVP of Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire

Charlie Hunnam as Kai

Even with his strong accent for a space epic, Charlie Hunnam is clearly the most magnetic person on screen. Given the only lines to make Kora give plausible & genuine emotional responses, Hunnam looks like he’s the only person having any fun. He’s also given the task as the only real plot difference between this film and all of Snyder’s clear influences, so that’s a bonus in my book. It’ll be interesting to see where his character ends up in Part 2.

I can just hear my mom saying “Put that down. We already have Star Wars at home.” Not enough here to argue against that logic.

Rebel Moon is streaming now on Netflix globally. Part 2 of Rebel Moon debuts on April 19th, 2024.

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