Rebel Moon (Christian Movie Review)
About the Film
Director Zach Snyder’s films are often buzzworthy and tend to spark passionate opinions. Rebel Moon: Part 1 – Child of Fire will likely be no different. The story began as a failed pitch for an R-rated Star Wars movie before ultimately landing at Netflix as an original film and the first entry in an ambitious new series (Part Two arrives in April). As a lover of both the sci-fi genre and original storytelling, I was rooting for this movie. It’s the sort of film we need to see more often. Unfortunately, it’s also a movie that will discourage Hollywood execs from signing off on more. Rebel Moon is an uncompelling exercise in style over substance, an uninspiring spectacle that cannot overcome its hollow and derivative story.
Rebel Moon is an original film in the sense that it is not tied to any existing intellectual property, but the story is clearly inspired by other well-known franchises (Star Wars, Lord of The Rings). The main problem with Rebel Moon is not that many narrative elements are plucked from existing stories but that, while it reflects elements of those classic films, it never captures their soul. Rebel Moon is akin to a “Greatest Hits” album featuring familiar songs from legendary rock n roll artists being performed by a cover band. Everything in this film is something audiences have seen done better elsewhere.
For example, a tavern scene pays explicit homage to the famous cantina scene in Star Wars but lacks the same sense of wonder and otherworldliness. Rebel Moon echoes the classic “putting a team together” plot from Seven Samurai and other films, but the assembled team is forgettable and lacks the camaraderie and banter that make such stories enjoyable. The film gives little reason to feel any emotional attachment to the paper-thin and undeveloped characters.
Sofia Boutella is fine in the lead role. She is able to handle the no-nonsense physicality of the character. Unfortunately, her character is little more than that physical element. She is too serious and guarded to give audiences much to grasp onto and needs to be surrounded by other dynamic and sympathetic characters. Despite a stellar cast, however, none of the other characters make an impression. The fault is with the script rather than the performances.
None of the actors are given anything of consequence to do. The usually great Djimon Hounsou plays a legendary but currently down-on-his-luck general. The heroes locate him and recruit him to their cause, but then he doesn’t speak again until the very end of the movie. Other characters speak in awe of his tactical skills and strategy, but the audience only ever sees him running around firing a laser gun. The same is true of the other team members. After their initial introductions, they are relegated to passively lurking in background, used only to populate a few action scenes.
Director Zach Snyder has never been known for character development or complex storytelling. His strength is his ability to create stylized visuals and action. Opinions on his distinctive style are subjective, but Rebel Moon gives way to all his worst instincts. The visuals are occasionally striking but rarely feel immersive due to the overreliance on green screen and unconvincing CGI. The action scenes are also undercut by gratuitous amounts of So. Much. Slow. Motion. Rather than adding an exciting flare, the technique brings the action to a screeching halt and strips it of its energy. My wife remarked at one point, “This is the slowest battle I’ve ever seen.” The stylized element is not just reserved for action scenes either. Even regular actions, such as simply walking down the exit ramp of a spaceship, are given the slow-motion treatment.
Zach Snyder is clearly attempting to lay the groundwork of a larger story. Several characters and plot points are introduced and then quickly abandoned, seemingly left as threads for future films. In many ways, Rebel Moon feels like the first act of a story, slowly building toward a climax that never comes. The movie spends most of its 2-hour runtime gathering new characters and trying to set the game board. Then, just when the story finally gets going, the film ends with a title card promising a Part 2 next year. The question is, will anyone still remember this story when the sequel arrives? Rebel Moon should be commended for attempting to offer audiences an ambitious and sweeping sci-fi epic, but unfortunately it forgets that it must also give viewers a reason to care about it.
Engage The Film
Setting a Virtuous Example
Rebel Moon echoes many of the same themes from the films that inspired it, such as the corruption of power, the value of freedom, and the fight against injustice. One of the central questions that confronts the characters is how to find hope and virtue in a world seemingly void of such qualities. Do they cling to what is good and right, or do they seek to survive by embracing the prevailing mindset of the world?
In some ways, the theme is (very) loosely analogous to a Christian worldview. In several flashback scenes, a royal princess is hinted to be a messiah-like figure that was prophesized to save the world. However, when that princess dies a shocking and untimely death, some of that goodness and hope is said to have departed from the world. People who had looked to the princess as their salvation are left reeling and questioning their worldviews.
Kora (Boutella’s character) witnessed the princess firsthand and admits that she was a believer, but now she has lost hope and is looking after her own survival rather than the wellbeing of those around her. Eventually, however, she is compelled to stand and fight. She realizes that she can set an example, allowing the goodness she witnessed in the princess to radiate through her own life and to be the catalyst that inspires hope in others.
It remains to be seen how this unresolved plot will be explored in Part 2, but the theme of characters emulating a killed messiah figure has some interesting parallels to the gospel (so long as the analogy isn’t stretched too far). As Christians, how do we respond to a broken and sinful world? Will we lose hope, or will we cling to what is good, true, and beautiful, and shine a hopeful light into the dark world around us?