First: a little Rorschach test. If in the first scene of “Rebel Moon” you see a Fay ship flying through a space portal, there is a good chance that you will like “Rebel Moon“. However, if you see a huge metal penis emerging from a space vagina… well, good luck. In other words: without a revolution, we can all remain entrenched. You either enter convention or hello. Zack Snyder made a movie for those who are convinced by two words: “Zack” and “Snyder”.
The story that Snyder tells is actually very simple. Much simpler than the long and extremely complicated introduction that opens the film, delivered from off-camera by Anthony Hopkins, might suggest. Here is Kora (Sofia Boutella), who is hiding from an evil empire on an inconspicuous agricultural planet. However, the heavy boot of empire also reached here. So Kora must assemble a group of daredevils who will help defend a group of space farmers from the terror of space Nazis. And that’s it. The idea is to give Rebel Moon the laser shooters an excuse to make an impressive noise. This is the kind of simplicity that can be easily turned against the film: because the building blocks of this “new“, “original” universe are the most clichés with all the benefits of an inventory of simplifications, mental shortcuts and stereotypes. We know it well – and in many better versions.
No wonder: initially “Rebel Moon” was supposed to be a spin-off of “Star Wars” and there is still a lot of George Lucas in the film’s DNA. We even have the obligatory “cantina scene“, i.e. a visit to a dive populated by intergalactic thugs. At one of the tables sits a creepy little brain that has stuck its tentacles into some unfortunate person and taken over his body. It’s actually a nice metaphor for the whole movie. An inert body controlled by the evil whispers of some parasite resembles the viewer at the mercy of Zack Snyder, the master of form over content.
After all, the director of “300” is best at composing epic shots, preferably filled with slow motion, tense muscles and clenched teeth. Never mind that sometimes the level of coolness of such compositions belies the idea behind the image (see: “Watchmen“. Unfortunately, in “Rebel Moon” it’s similar: the tail wags the dog. Stylish shots don’t help Snyder move the story forward. It is history that allows Snyder to compose subsequent stylish frames.
An unsympathetic viewer will therefore say that “Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire” looks like a sequence of graphics spat out by Mid journey after mixing “Star Wars“, “Dune“, “Harry Potter“, “science fiction“. Even the so-called The elevator pitch (a short, catchy summary of the plot) of the film sounds exceptionally imitative in this case. The concept of “Seven Samurai” in the style of “Star Wars” borders on tautology and swallowing one’s own tail. After all, Lucas himself was already inspired by Kurosawa.
That’s probably why Snyder is crazy about director’s cuts. So-called director’s cuts are usually “more” versions. Snyder won his cut of “Justice League” (it must be admitted: still better than the original) and has already announced that after the premiere of the “standard” versions of the two-part “Rebel Moon” on Netflix, “premium” versions will appear: longer and stronger.
In this case, I am willing to believe that the director’s cuts may bring – apart from more guts flying in the air – improvement. Sure, considering the two-and-a-half-hour first half of the film (the second part in April), “Child of Fire” is quite a self-contained. The problem is that Snyder tells his story as if he were doing a so-called speed run through a video game. At some point the film simply turns into a list of plot facts. Kora visits other bad guys and tough guys and when they get their five minutes, they can be recruited surprisingly easily, after which they immediately fade into the background and don’t do anything interesting until the end of the film. When, in the final stretch, the director suddenly starts messing around and playing with expectations, it is already too late, because in the meantime we have come to believe that not much will happen here.
It’s a pity, because earlier – for about the first half hour of “Child of Fire” – Snyder told the story surprisingly calmly and reliably. He introduced us to the heroine, triggered a conflict of attitudes, clearly set the stakes and gradually built the tension until the culminating moment of the laser gun firing. At this stage I thought to myself: “hey, this is even watchable”. So it’s possible that there’s a more balanced version of the film out there, with a little more depth to the characters and a slightly better cast.
There is no shortage of examples of wasted acting potential in “Rebel Moon“, but Michiel Huisman was probably the one who drew the shortest straw. At least Charlie Hunnam gets to play with the metal teeth and colorful crew of a lovable bounty hunter. At least Doona Bae wears a stylish hat and can swing laser swords. Huisman, meanwhile, plays the space farmer Gunnar and looks like an ordinary guy who accidentally stumbles onto the set of a sci-fi show. Actually – when you think about it – he also looks a lot like Zack Snyder. Maybe it’s another unintentional metaphor in a movie full of unintentional metaphors. Gunnar is, in a sense, the cause of the entire plot confusion because he tried to do business with the evil empire. He meant well, but he messed up, setting the machine of an evil Hollywood blockbuster in motion.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to hide that “Child of Fire” has problems. And these are Kora’s heavy, declarative monologues And that’s Ed Skrein playing the evil Atticus Noble on one overly intense note. And this is a whole bunch of logical absurdities. And this is the figure of an evil.
Snyder is not an intellectual, he makes gut cinema, not head cinema. He can adapt Alan Moore for the screen (although he clearly didn’t understand the original “Watchmen“). She can manifest deconstruction and feminism (although in “Sucker Punch” these are just excuses to show girls in short skirts). He can make films in a refined, quasi-arthouse style (although “Army of the Dead” is simply a B-class action movie). “300” remains a beacon for his career, and Frank Miller is his spiritual patron – even if, in the end, he is closer to Todd McFarlane. Todd likes grotesque faces, waving chains and matted capes, Zack likes slow motion, angry facial expressions and pathos (hey, maybe Snyder should make a Spawn reboot ?). These are all not flaws, just aesthetic choices. Choices that – as choices do – have their consequences. An artist-intellectual risks that his work will be hermetic, illegible and cold. The gut artist also takes risks – but in a different way.
“Rebel Moon” is simply a series of consequences of specific artistic preferences. Everything here flows from Snyder and his original emploi. The film’s impudent imitativeness is the result of total seriousness: the director doesn’t wink, doesn’t make quotation marks, doesn’t play with irony or Marvel. He makes a sci-fi opera as if no one has ever made a sci-fi opera before. And he is honest about it, maybe even innocent (someone will say: naive, someone will say: shitty, someone will say: stupid, everyone will probably be right). Snyder resembles a little boy sitting alone in the corner. He just wants to smash toys together as an act of pure escapism, pure compensation. Therefore, some viewers will find excitement and catharsis here, while others will be suspicious of the toxic effects of such stimulation.
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