Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire (2023) Review

Rebel Moon bored the hell out of me. Bored, with a capital “B”. Zack Snyder has made a series of mediocre movies such as Sucker Punch and Army of the Dead. But his latest movie breaks a new record as he hits rock bottom with a so-called epic sci-fi adventure opera that seems like the next big thing.

It was a cross between Star Wars and Seven Samurai, where he even originally pitched his idea to Lucasfilm as a standalone Star Wars movie not connected to the Skywalker saga. It didn’t work out as planned. Snyder went to Warner Bros. twice but got rejected before Netflix agreed to his idea and granted him the budget to film a two-part movie event, with the follow-up titled Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver slated for an April 2024 release date.

But till then, the first part of Rebel Moon itself is already DOA. The story goes like this: Kora (Sofia Boutella) is a former Imperium soldier with a dark past who has since laid low on the farming planet of Veldt. Everything looks fine at first until the looming arrival of the Imperium ship above the sky. The soldiers led by the sadistic Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) demand all the farming village’s harvested grain and he will return in 10 weeks.

To ensure the farmers were doing their jobs, he deployed a small group of soldiers to watch over them. Kora, on the other hand, chooses to leave the place before an incident revolving around an attempted rape of one of the villagers prompted her to kill the soldiers.

Soon, with the help of fellow villager Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), the two set out to assemble a ragtag group of warriors as they journey to multiple locations. This includes smuggler and pilot Kai (Charlie Hunnam), beast-tamer Tarak (Staz Nair), cyborg swordmaster Nemesis (Doona Bae), former Imperium general Titus (Djimon Hounsou) as well as warrior Darrian Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher) and his sister, Devra (Cleopatra Coleman).

Clocking at 134 minutes long, the movie overstays its welcome long before it reaches the end. Everything here screams clichéd as Snyder shamelessly borrowed and ripped off movies from Star Wars and Seven Samurai to Dune, The Lord of the Rings and even at one point, Inglourious Basterds. I don’t mind the lack of originality in a movie as long as it is entertaining enough to keep me invested throughout the running time.

Ed Skrein in Netflix's "Rebel Moon: Part One - A Child of Fire" (2023)

Too bad that’s barely the case for Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire. Snyder’s usual stylised slow motion is on full display but his penchant for employing that effect annoys me more than ever. The action sequences have none of the palpable thrills and high-stakes energy while the story, which Snyder also co-wrote alongside Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten, is disappointingly bland from the get-go. There are no emotional and dramatic stakes as Snyder’s self-serious direction sucks the life out of the movie.

It doesn’t help either when the protagonist played by the otherwise well-toned and physically fit Sofia Boutella is devoid of any personality. She is nothing more than a depressingly glum former warrior-turned-rebel trying to defend Veldt against the tyrannical Imperium army. It’s hard to care whether her character can make it throughout the journey since the movie strangely forgoes the importance of developing a strong character arc.

The same also goes for the rest of the supporting characters, namely Charlie Hunnam’s cut-rate Han Solo-like Kai while Michiel Huisman disappoints with his feeble supporting turn as Gunnar. Then, there’s the scenery-chewing Ed Skrein, whose antagonist role of Admiral Atticus Noble is trying to ape Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Hans Landa-like role from Inglourious Basterds.

The special effects are a mixed bag, even though the movie does feature some cool creature designs. There’s a brief but well-choreographed action set-piece between Nemesis’ lightsaber-like double swords against the humanoid spider-like alien Harmada played by Jena Malone. Anthony Hopkins, in the meantime, provides an above-average voiceover role as the sympathetic robot Jimmy.

There has been news about the R-rated director’s cut of Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire, which reportedly contains nearly an additional hour’s worth of footage. Whether or not it would be a better version remains to be seen but for now, what we have here is a colossal misfire that I’m not sure it’s worth waiting for the second part next April.

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire is currently streaming on Netflix.