by Connor Pugh ‘24
Rebel Moon Part One: a Child of Fire is director Zack Snyder’s (of Man of Steel and 300 fame) attempt at a gritty space opera, striving for the same playing field as the likes of Star Wars and Dune. Initially conceived as a standalone film in the aforementioned Star Wars franchise before Disney rejected the concept, Snyder instead turned to Netflix, who essentially gave him a blank check to pursue his wildest dreams as long as he released a PG-13 cut first. As the title suggests this movie is the first part of a grand space epic, with the second film scheduled to release in April. An R-rated extended cut of the films is coming out at a currently unspecified later date.
Rebel Moon follows the mysterious Kora (Sofia Boutella) along with farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) as they travel across the galaxy to find help protecting their small town from the threat of the empire of the Motherworld, crossing paths with the likes of disgraced General Titus (Djimon Hounsou) and laser blade-wielding bounty hunter Nemesis (Bae Doona), among many others.
Anyone who has seen any of Snyder’s work will find much of Rebel Moon’s aesthetics and compositions familiar. There’s the aggressive lens flares, there’s the liberal use of slow-mo shots, and there’s even the macho military men gritting their teeth and firing heavy weaponry. It’s almost too familiar in many places; the world of Rebel Moon is populated with every sci-fi trope and plot point imaginable, and it’s obvious this movie was originally something else at some point, because it was. Because Disney didn’t allow Snyder to base his film in the Star Wars franchise and its decades of history, he and everyone else working on the film had to build from the ground up the entire universe of Rebel Moon, and it shows. The worlds of Rebel Moon feel less like inhabited spaces and more like a cardboard backdrop to a stage play.
But there’s sort of a charming quality to this obvious fakeness. Snyder’s warm colors and harsh lighting makes many of the scenes in the film strangely intimate despite the extravagant scale of its setpieces. The camera remains steadfastly focused on its characters instead of getting distracted by the backgrounds, which almost makes the fakeness of the entire movie feel like a deliberate choice. Rebel Moon is of essence a modern pulp movie, a film that knows it isn’t the next Star Wars but is still willing to wear its heart on its sleeve and just be an enjoyable–if slightly forgettable–experience.
Many of Rebel Moon’s thematic and character beats remain frustratingly vague or unsolved, a consequence of this just being the first part to a larger story. This means it’s a little hard to latch on to anything thematically interesting as of now, but the first part has the hopeful beginnings of larger thematic arcs tackling the spirit of revolution and overcoming trauma. While Snyder definitely reached too close to the sun with this one, Rebel Moon nonetheless remains a fun pulpy space adventure that could be a satisfying experience if you gave it a chance.