BY JACK RANSOM DECEMBER 29, 2023
The 11th directorial effort from divisive (yet undeniably distinct) director Zack Snyder and the launch of Netflix’s next big IP.
Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire sees a village’s peaceful existence threatened by the armies of a tyrannical ruling force. A mysterious stranger (Sofia Boutella) living among the villagers becomes their best hope of survival, as she puts together a team to face the oppressors.
Honestly the online discourse surrounding Zack Snyder is quite frankly one of the most exhausting topics on the internet. His legions of diehard fans defending every single one of his projects and frequently claiming critics are “out to get him” and everyday viewers do not understand his work (yes, Army of the Dead really is actually a nuanced masterwork) and his detractors calling him all style and no substance, with frequently convoluted and clunky storytelling for his latter works. For me Snyder’s best work is Watchmen and outside of this and his Dawn of the Dead remake I haven’t really loved anything he has done, though I do enjoy 300, ZSJL and elements of both BvS and Man of Steel (and yep, that animated owl movie also is not too bad!)
Unfortunately Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire might just be my least favourite of his features and it is baffling to me the sheer scope of Netflix’s plans for this of all properties that they want to expand into comic books, video games, novels, animated features and multiple TV series, as this Theatrical Cut (we’ll get to the Director’s Cut situation) is an absolute chore from start to finish, that offers so little in originality and memorability that I completely understand why Disney turned it down when Snyder pitched it to them as an R-Rated Star Wars feature. This is technically a quarter of a film, as Snyder has a separate Director’s Cut, as well as a fully combined cut of both parts that will arrive at some point next year. It is abundantly clear just how chopped down this is. With the entire film largely consisting of dull exposition and character introductions, quite the opposite of both its main influences (Star Wars and Seven Samurai) interspersed with lacklustre action, which is the one element of a Snyder feature that you can usually account on being at least entertaining.
I will say that his commitment to the simultaneously retro yet CGI heavy palette is distinct (though still quite ugly and bland to look at throughout) and a smattering of the alien inhabitants are notably bizarro in their appearances and clearly Snyder has a well thought out vision for the look of the sets, costumes etc. Of course there are a couple of painting-esque grandiose shots… It's just a shame that I didn’t care about anyone or anything involved due to the screenplay. The action has been severely neutered to appease the Netflix overlords Theatrical Cut requests, with an already out of place, nasty attempted sexual assault rescue set piece lacking any bite or tension and the larger scale set pieces descend into laser blasting blurs, pointless slow-motion implementation (it honestly feels like Snyder is just incorporating these random shots in out of obligation at times).
The characters we follow here might just be some of the most instantaneously forgettable that I have seen all year from a blockbuster film. Presence and enthusiasm-wise the cast are clearly having fun with the material: Sofia Boutella has a strong action heroine presence and Ed Skrein hams it up to 100 to elevate his generic ‘so evil he’s evil’ antagonist. Charlie Hunnam is very enthusiastic… but his Irish accident is all over the place. Anthony Hopkins is clearly on expository autopilot as the voice of Jimmy and Djimou Hounsou is completely wasted in his role here. The problem is that these characters are just not given anytime to breathe or to be effectively established.
Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire is a bland, sludgy, generic sci-fi epic that is an incredibly weak start to establishing the Rebel Mooniverse. Snyder clearly is passionate about the material and there are flashes of potential and a smattering of strong imagery. However, the story and characters are incredibly half baked, the action is disappointing and the whole feature feels sliced and diced and ultimately pointless with the upcoming Director’s Cut on the horizon.