Producers: Deborah Snyder, Eric Newman, Zack Snyder and Wesley Coller Director: Zack Snyder Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten Cast: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Doona Bae, Ray Fisher, Charlie Hunnam, Anthony Hopkins, Staz Nair, Cleopatra Coleman, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Cary Elwes, E. Duffy, Sky Yang, Corey Stoll, Fra Fee, Stuart Martin, Alfonso Herrera, Rhian Rees, Stella Grace Fitzgerald, Jena Malone, Charlotte Maggi and Tony Amendola Distributor: Netflix
A tedious slog through an avalanche of genre clichés, made worse by an air of pretentiousness and ponderous self-importance, Zack Snyder’s latest piece of Netflix bombast “Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire” spends over two hours of world-building to create a place no sane viewer would ever want to visit once, let alone the multiple times its subtitle suggests we’re meant to go back to it. It’s an excruciating bore.
The plot is supposedly an original creation of Snyder and co-writers Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten but actually a derivative hodgepodge of bits and pieces of other, better movies, with classics by Kurosawa and Lucas the main models. It involves a growing rebellion against an evil empire by some of its oppressed people and the recruitment of members to join its ranks. And after overloading us with laborious exposition, elephantine backstory and a repetitious sequence of episodes that are one-half ponderous talk and the other chaotic fights that often slip into slow-motion for presumed effect (and always conclude with a shot of the planet-hopping recruitment ship flying off for its next destination), it has the temerity to close with the observation that we’ve just witnessed “the beginning of something.” One could only wish that it were the beginning of something else.
Some of the narration is delivered in the instantly recognizable tones of Anthony Hopkins, who provides the voice of a robot named Jimmy, once a warrior but now ensconced on a moon called Veldt, where a bedraggled community of farmers led by Sindri (Corey Stoll, wearing a most unbecoming beard) ekes out a hand-to-mouth existence. (Hopkins, fortunately for him, doesn’t actually have to appear in the movie. Jimmy is played by Dustin Ceithamer, so Hopkins is basically doing a James Earl Jones thing.)
Veldt is part of the empire, or Imperium, controlled by the Motherworld, which was once a monarchy whose King (Carey Elwes) and Queen (Rhian Rees) hoped that their angelic daughter Princess Issa (Stella Grace Fitzgerald) would usher in a new era of peace and harmony. But, as we learn through narration and gauzy flashbacks, the royal family was assassinated, and power was seized by Belisarius (Fra Fee), a militaristic tyrant whose chief henchman Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), dressed in quasi-Nazi garb, cruises about the galaxy in a huge Dreadnought, tasked with snuffing out any remnants of resistance to the new order. One of his stops is Veldt, where he demands that the community provide grain for his crew. When some protest that compliance would mean their own starvation, Noble responds with murder and a simple takeover of the place before departing.
Naturally his action causes distress, and Kora (Sofia Boutella), an outsider who was taken in by the farmers when she crash landed on Veldt, becomes an instigator of resistance—it will later be revealed that she was an imperial warrior who turned against the regime, and thus a wanted fugitive. She’s joined by handsome farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), who’s besotted with her, and together they persuade Kai (Charlie Hunnam), a rogue pilot who for some reason speaks with an Irish brogue, to ferry them to other planets to seek out warriors to join in the protection of their moon.
At this point the movie turns into a repetitive formula in which the three travel to some locale where they can approach a noteworthy prospect to join them; in each case Snyder structures the episode to begin with visuals attesting to the otherworldly character of the place (the production designers were Stephen Swain and Stefan Dechant, the costumer Stephanie Porter) and lots of surpassingly banal conversation before securing a “yes,” which is followed by a gigantic fight he tries to jazz up with bursts of super-speeded up action and slow-motion for “effect.” By the time all the stopovers are complete, the intrepid trio have found a group of supposedly charismatic companions: Titus (Djimon Hounsou), a former imperial general now a drunken layabout; Nemesis (Doona Bae) a swordswoman whose weapons shoot out beams of light energy; Tarak (Staz Nair), an enslaved smithy who’s also an exceptional animal-whisperer; and Darrian Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), whose moniker is descriptive of his talents. By the close they’re all headed back for Veldt and, presumably a confrontation with Noble, who’s shown receiving a set of stern marching orders from his sneering master Belisarius.
Snyder adds a plethora of genre piffle to amplify the plot; at one point, for example, Tarak takes flight aboard a weird winged creature that proves the writer-director knows his Harryhausen as well as Kurosawa and Lucas, and at another Jenna Malone camps it up as a ravenous alien spider-woman who does battle with Nemesis. Such stuff only increases the nonsensicality of it all; the picture increasingly feels like a grab-bag of cheesy tropes, for the most part realized in mediocre CGI (the effects supervisors were Marcus Taormina and John “DJ” DesJadin) and shot in the same dark, murky style that Snyder brought to the series of DCU movies he oversaw and which, acting as his own cinematographer, he repeats here. Editor Dody Dorn can do little to mitigate the monotony of the story and the visuals, and while Tom Holkenborg’s score ladles out music intended to inspire awe, it’s to no avail.
Nor can the cast bring much zest to the sodden material, though they’re induced to pour a lot of energy into the attempt. Boutella makes an athletic if inexpressive heroine, and Skrein’s sleazy villainy carries a certain campy charm, but the rest can’t invest their cardboard characters with any sort of inner life.
The result is a dismal waste of time for us as well as them—a movie that feels narratively like water circling a drain until it finally gurgles down, taking a reported $165 million of Netflix money along with it. Part Two of “Rebel Moon,” subtitled “The Scargiver,” is promised for April of next year. Consider yourself forewarned.