Within the confines of the studio system, Zack Snyder gave us Watchmen, 300, and Sucker Punch – singular, uncompromising blockbuster visions the likes of which are rarely made these days – but now with a blank cheque from Netflix and carte blanche to do whatever he wants, part one of his sci-fi duology Rebel Moon has arrived on the streamer with a whimper.
Initially announced as a scrapped Star Wars film with the sensibilities of Kurosawa and the spaghetti Western (with unlimited funds to do so), Moon's promise of a war-torn sci-fi world with a darker, more visceral tone (as per Snyder's filmography) across a two-part epic was hard not to be even a little bit intrigued by. But those are admittedly big shoes to fill and, just like Army of the Dead before it, Rebel Moon Part One – A Child of Fire is more bark than bite – a premise that sounds good until it comes time to actually deliver on the conceit.
When the pacifist farmers of Veldt are threatened by the tyrannical armies of Admiral Atticus (Ed Skrein), lone warrior Korra (Sofia Boutella) is dispatched across the galaxy to recruit a group of rebels to protect their peace. Heading up the rebel team alongside Korra are Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), Kai (Charlie Hunnam), Titus (Djimon Hounsou), Nemesis (Doona Bae), Tarak (Staz Nair), Milius (E. Duffy), and the Bloodaxes (Cleopatra Coleman and Ray Fisher) – a who's who of resistance fighters, guns for hire, and empirical prisoners with a score to settle.
Moon even has a scene in which some farmers turn up to a seedy dive bar to recruit a mysterious fighter to take them off-world, not too dissimilar to the much-loved cantina scene in A New Hope. If ever a film was the physical embodiment of the “can I copy your homework?” meme, it's this. It's hard to think the script has been re-tooled much since Lucas Film and then Warner Bros, (twice over), passed on the material given how much it still rips off Star Wars. Not that A Child of Fire doesn't have Zack Snyder written all over it though; gratuitous slow-motion, bombastic action and lens flares are in abundance here and are admittedly some of the film's strongest moments. But the plot feels, beat-for-beat, like it could be one of Kathleen Kennedy's several spin-offs, complete with masked troopers, light-up swords and an evil Empire spreading fear across the galaxy with their iron-clad grip.
Snyder has always had a keen eye for action though and the choreography is impressive with the practicality of the sets adding a genuine tactility to the combat. A fight involving Doona Bae's swordswomen facing off against Jena Malone as a spider-like creature is a particular highlight and there's some great hand-to-hand combat from Sofia Boutella throughout. But it's too few and far between and most of the runtime is instead spent carving out this thinly sketched assortment of archetypes and making us believe they have any semblance of chemistry as a group. What the script lacks is any apparent incentive for why these hardened, taciturn loners would trust one another enough to go to war, or why they'd care for an entire colony of farmers they've never met.
Labelled as Part One, the film ends on the vaguest of notions that there's more looming, ending but the cryptic teases and supposed “cliffhanger” feel so haphazardly set up in the preceding 134 minutes that there's little to care about anyway. Any two-parter will rarely feel resolute, but the likes of Infinity War, Dune: Part One, and Across the Spider-Verse show that you can set up an entertaining series that's worth investing in. Only here, Rebel Moon Part Two has even more legwork to do to get audiences remotely interested in the impending war. For some, the end of part one may be a bigger threat than Ed Skrein's half-assed villain caricature. Whether audiences return for Rebel Moon when Part Two: The Scargiver releases next April remains to be seen. A question that's not quite as compelling as whether Han shot first…
Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is on Netflix from December 22nd, 2023.