28 Dec 2023

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

From Widescreen, 1:02 pm on 28 December 2023

Zack Snyder’s first film for Netflix reeks of rotting carcases of the failed Star Wars knock-offs that it feeds from, reports Dan Slevin.

Still image from Zack Snyder's 2023 Netflix film, Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire featuring Sofia Boutella as Kora.

Photo: Netflix

It’s not often that I find myself saying, ‘thank goodness we saw this one on a streamer and not in a cinema’. But there are times when it is a relief to be able to walk away and go and do something else instead – as several of my family members did on Boxing Day night – whereas if we had been stuck in a cinema, not wanting to waste the significant investment that requires, we may have ended up hating Rebel Moon Part One even more than we did.

Two of us made it to the end – me for professional reasons and our houseguest out of a kind of morbid curiosity – but the thought that there is an extended cut of Rebel Moon in the wings, as well as a sequel, or – heaven help us all – a franchise, fills me with dread.

Snyder is best known for his work on DC’s 2017 Justice League, a movie he was unable to complete for tragic personal reasons, but one he was able to persuade Warner Bros. to let him have a second crack at, after Joss Whedon’s salvage attempt was poorly received. Spurred on by an often noxious fan campaign, Snyder’s darker cut was released to streaming during the uncertain times of the Covid restrictions in 2021. Being a more coherent expression of Snyder’s vision did not, in the end, make it a better film.

Still from Zack Snyder's 2023 Netflix film Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire.

Photo: Netflix

But Netflix were taking notice of the loyalty that Snyder provokes in his legions of fans and asked him what he wanted to do next. He found something quite literally sitting in a bottom draw and pitched them a script that the Star Wars team had turned down ten years earlier. Netflix being more concerned with securing a valuable property than, I guess, cinematic quality, signed on and now we have a two hour and fifteen-minute space opera that feels like every lame Star Wars knock-off you’ve ever dreamed of with an extra seam of unpleasantness all of its own.

The galaxy is ruled by a ruthless fascist regime called the Imperium, and some plucky rebels are enjoying not much luck in their attempts to overthrow them. A Norse-like community of peaceful grain farmers on a distant moon receive a visitation from the Imperium and an offer they cannot refuse – sell us all your crops or face the consequences.

Still from Zack Snyder's 2023 Netflix film Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire.

Photo: Netflix

What the Imperium don’t know is that the community is the hiding place of their most feared opponent, a former Imperial bodyguard named Kora (Sofia Boutella) and she now has to knit a ragtag bunch of scattered rebels into a force that can protect the peaceful people that she has come to love.

Originality is often overrated. Almost all art is built on the foundations of what has come before. It’s what is done with it that matters. So, if Rebel Moon wasn’t so dull-witted, so thuddingly uninvolving, so visually drab, so unforgivably humourless, its debt to better films wouldn’t matter quite so much. But it is all of those things and, thus, gets no free pass.

According to Wikipedia, this first instalment of Rebel Moon had a budget of US$166m which, by my rough calculations, would be equivalent about 200 metres of Auckland light rail. When a viewer’s mind turns to fantasy local urban transport solutions instead of your fantasy galaxy adventure you should really think about getting into a different business.

Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire is rated PG for violence and is streaming on Netflix.

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