For twenty years Zach Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) has directed major motion pictures and created some memorable moments in cinematic history. He has also been engulfed in controversy, especially in the past ten years. Removed from his latest comic book film, Justice League, by Warner Bros. he got redemption a few years later with his four-hour version of the movie that saw both critic and audience success.
His newest project, a collaboration with the streaming service, Netflix, had been germinating in his brain for a decade before he was able to film it. Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire, had a limited theatrical release last week before making its way to Netflix just in time for the holiday weekend.
Years after the King (Cary Elwes; The Princess Bride) and his niece, Princess Issa (Charlotte Maggi; Summer Love) were murdered, The Motherworld is ruled by a dictator, Balisarius (Far Fee; Hawkeye), who has created a seemingly unstoppable empire. Meanwhile, living a peaceful life as a farmer on a planet called Veldt is Kora (Sofia Boutella; Atomic Blonde), a former high-ranking Imperium soldier who looks to bring together an army of rebels to fight Balisarius' henchmen when they threaten the people of Veldt.
Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire is unquestionably Snyder, with his slow-motion sequences and action-driven plot. He also draws out some scenes to the point of ad nauseam but one can't expect anything less from a director who made a four-hour film for Warner Bros. However, within the 133-minute runtime, there are some excellent scenes while there are also some that miss the mark. For example, when Balisarius interrogates Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein; Deadpool) after he loses a battle to Kora and the Rebels, the dialogue could have been truncated to the same outcome.
Boutella is no stranger to stunt fighting having portrayed strong yet villainous women in previous roles. She adds a layer to her strong performance by not only showing off her action skills but by also offering a sense of humanity and heart to a hardened and fierce warrior. She is matched in her intensity by Skrein and the two offer one of the better battle scenes in the film. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones), and Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy) all do a fine job providing emotional moments for Boutella to feed off of. The rest of the cast is hit or miss with some fine performances intertwined with mediocre ones.
Where Snyder is really at fault is in the pacing of Rebel Moon. While it should be a cohesive story, it instead reads like a television show with each subplot having a clear beginning and ending in which to interlace some commercials. It makes for a choppy feeling overall that takes the viewer in and out of scenes, which is very distracting. The CGI is also awful, looking amateurish and as if it were produced on older equipment.
Conversely, the fight scenes are impressive and well-choreographed. For example, when Nemesis (Bae Doona; Cloud Atlas) fights the spider creature, their entanglements seem like tango as they dance around the room. There are also some interesting weapons including Nemesis' swords that can be set on fire to increase the damage they can inflict on an enemy.
Rebel Moon, drawing inspiration from anime and Star Wars, was initially pitched as a Star Wars film in the 2010s to Disney. However, its disjointed plot segments hinder smooth scene transitions, falling short of its influences. Unfortunately, Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire isn't going to translate into a triumphant return to film for Snyder and doesn't remotely resemble his earlier creations like The 300 and Man of Steel. Hopefully either the R-rated director of cut or Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver will clarify the story more.