While it’s heartwarming that an idea Zack Snyder conceived when he was young has reached the silver screen, his new space opera Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is ‘derivative’.
There’s a scene early on in Zack Snyder’s new space opera, Rebel Moon (or, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire, to use its full title), in which an innocent farmer goes to a seedy cantina with a mysterious warrior in a hooded cloak. One of the ugly, pig-faced aliens there hassles the farmer, so the warrior uses some nifty fighting skills to defend him, and then they meet a roguish mercenary who agrees to take them off-planet aboard his spaceship. The mercenary is named Kai, rather than Han Solo, but it’s fair to say that Rebel Moon is set in a galaxy that isn’t far, far away from the one in Star Wars.
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In fact, Snyder has said that he started dreaming up the film when he was an 11-year-old boy who had just seen Star Wars at the cinema. But it’s clear that he hasn’t developed it much since then, because, in the intervening 46 years, all he’s come up with is a single question: “What if Star Wars was crossed with Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai?” There is nothing to Rebel Moon beyond that. Ten years ago, Snyder pitched the concept to Lucasfilm as an official Star Wars project, and when the company turned him down, he rejigged it so that it would have its own separate mythology. But, well, it’s not all that separate. Blending futuristic science fiction with medieval fantasy, the film is full of robots, bounty hunters, grimy spaceports and massed ranks of uniformed troops that all look suspiciously familiar.
Not that Snyder hasn’t made a few changes. Rebel Moon is recognisably the work of the man who directed 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel and Justice League, and so, compared to the authorised Star Wars films, it has more blood, more swearing, more semi-nudity and more threats of sexual assault. There are more lens flares, more slow-motion action sequences, more shades of brown in the murky colour palette, and a lot more clumsy, expository speeches.
There’s also a lot less fun. The idea seems to be that Rebel Moon is more “adult” than the Star Wars canon, but what that means is that it’s more adolescent. It’s certainly not more complex in its world-building or sophisticated in its themes. The goodies are straightforward goodies, and the baddies are straightforward baddies, and you can usually tell which is which by how attractive they are.
The main baddie is the jackbooted Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), and definitely not Darth Vader. He is the right-hand man of the Regent (Fra Fee), and definitely not the Emperor; a mystical tyrant who rules over the Realm, and definitely not the Empire. The heroine is Kora (Sofia Boutella), a soldier who has defected from the Realm, and who now works alongside Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) in a farming village on the moon of Veldt, and definitely not Tatooine. On the hunt for insurgents, Atticus visits Veldt in his massive space cruiser, and demands that the villagers hand over their grain after the next harvest, much like the bandits in Seven Samurai, so Kora and Gunnar decide to assemble a gang of outlaws and fight back.
Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnam, Michiel Huisman, Djimon Hounsou, Doona Bae
Run time: 2h 14m
Release date: 22 December on Netflix
Once they’ve hooked up with Kai (Charlie Hunnam) in the nearest hive of scum and villainy, they fly with absurd speed and ease to a series of worlds that happen to have Earth-like gravity and atmosphere, and then, with even more absurd speed and ease, they find the very people they are searching for and persuade them to join their crew. Staz Nair is Tarak, a Conan the Barbarian lookalike who refuses to wear a shirt. Doona Bae is Nemesis, an assassin who wields glowing swords that are definitely not lightsabers. Djimon Hounsou is the disgraced General Titus, who reminds us of his role in Gladiator by turning up in a Roman amphitheatre. And Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in Justice League, is Bloodaxe, a dreadlocked rebel leader.
Despite the grandiosity of the film’s bombastic tone, the story turns out to be disappointingly minor
That’s about it, as far as the plot is concerned. One of the film’s flaws is that once Kora has got her ragtag gang together, they don’t do or say anything significant. It’s a waste. The costumes are cool, Boutella has a potent combination of toughness and sexiness, Skrein is enjoyably slimy, and all of the actors do what they can with what they’re given to work with. But nobody has the chance to demonstrate their abilities or personality.
Nothing exciting happens. There are no challenges to meet, no obstacles to overcome, no Death Stars to destroy. Despite the grandiosity of the film’s bombastic tone, the story turns out to be disappointingly minor, presumably because Snyder’s main aim was to introduce the cast and to set the scene for Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver, which is due next year. Part One itself ends up feeling a bit pointless.
Still, there is something strangely endearing about Rebel Moon. It is honest-to-goodness, unashamedly stupid and derivative pulp tosh, and it is so blatantly a work of gushing fan fiction that it makes you want to go back in time to 1977 and shake the young Zack Snyder by the hand. He couldn’t have imagined that somebody would one day give him hundreds of millions of dollars to transfer the scribbles in his notebook to the silver screen, and yet, that is what eventually happened. It’s heartwarming. The film may not be up to much, but the story behind it proves that even the most far-fetched childhood dreams really can come true.
Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is in limited cinemas in the US, Canada and the UK from 15 December and streaming on Netflix from 22 December.
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