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Rebel Moon

Zack Snyder's "Seven Samurai" by way of "Star Wars" is a complete waste of space.

Rating: 0 out of 5.
^ that’s zero stars, just for clarity

This article predates the Odd Trilogies website. It was originally published on Film Yap.

I feel personally invested in Zack Snyder’s career.

That’s not to say I’m a fan.

In 2020, my friend (and fellow Yap writer) Logan Sowash and I started a podcast called Odd Trilogies. The second trilogy we ever covered was one of our own curation, which we dubbed “The Rise of Snyder,” wherein we covered the director’s first three features.

Prior to that, I had only seen Snyder’s DC franchise ventures, Watchmen, and maybe part of 300. By covering his directorial beginnings and rapid ascent up the Hollywood studio-IP ladder so early on in our podcasting career, I think we (or at least I) formed something of a sentimental attachment to the man’s trajectory and tenure in the industry. We would go on to discuss his contributions to the DC film franchise in another episode, as well as doing “spinoff” episodes on each of his three other unrelated works, Sucker PunchThe Owls of Ga’Hoole, and Army of the Dead.

I’ve actively enjoyed exactly one Zack Snyder film—the cartoon owl one—and get mild entertainment out of 300Watchmen, and Man of Steel. I also have a sick fascination with the bafflingly misguided experiment that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and its director’s cut. His alleged opus, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, was undoubtedly an improvement on the theatrical cut but still a hollow, hulking slog doing familiar superhero things.

And yet, I eagerly await every new Snyder project—not out of excitement to tear it down, but out of genuine curiosity in what he’ll do next. There are also just enough things about him and his style that I appreciate—his seemingly being a really nice and cool guy to work with, and his ability to convey graphic action on screen in a way others simply don’t—to make me root for him.

All this to say: despite not liking, well, almost all of them, I want Zack Snyder’s movies to really land for me. I’m fully immersed in the man’s career at this point, and I want it to pay off. Granted, it’s definitely a low-expectations affair—and low-stakes too, since I seem to get some perverse pleasure out of the experience, even with his worst films.

Rebel Moon is one I was not exactly “hopeful” for, but certainly curious about. Snyder originally pitched it as a Star Wars movie but, after Lucasfilm turned it down, repurposed into an original IP. One thing Snyder and I have in common is a love of Star Wars, and while I have my doubts that many of our reasons for loving Star Wars are the same, I was intrigued by the idea of Snyder doing a big-budget fan-fiction for one of his favorite properties. It’s any nerd’s dream, and I wanted to see how he’d do Star Wars the Snyder Way.

The first film in this proposed franchise—which, at one point, was set to include multiple movies, books, comics, and even a video game—is called Part One: A Child of Fire.

Having seen it, the forthcoming franchise it asserts with that “Part One” moniker now feels more like a threat than a dream.

This is the worst and most worthless film I’ve seen in 2023.

I’d give you a plot rundown, but it’s really not critical to my helping you understand what this movie is. It’s undoubtedly “Zack Snyder’s Star Wars”—a ragtag group of resistance fighters, led by a humble farmer named Kora (Sofia Boutella) with secret significance to the galaxy, sets out to take down the tyrannical empire, called “The Motherworld,” that dominates the realm.

But in this rendition of the story, everyone’s very sad. And angry. And dirty. And, uh, there’s sexual assault, and stuff! Nice touch, Zack!

However, at least in this theatrical version (I guess there’s a pre-planned “Snyder Cut” on the way), there’s no significant blood, vulgarity, or (consensual) sex. So if it’s not more violent, more vulgar, or more horny than Star Wars—what’s the point?

I’m sure Snyder would say his take on the material is “more mature,” maybe even “more human.” This thing doesn’t have an ounce of earnest humanity within its 134 minutes. There are humans in it, sure. We are told—repeatedly—about the very human and very cool things they have done in their pasts. We don’t really get to see much of it, though.

As far as maturity goes… does oiling everyone up and making them look perpetually annoyed count as being more mature? YMMV, I guess.

I cannot overstate the absence of any actual character here. Kora is the closest we get, but like all the others, she’s really more a promise of a character, in the form of a semi-interesting backstory and a chip on her shoulder, than she is an active, emotional, evolving human being with specific desires or personality traits. Her main mission throughout the film is to assemble skilled and passionate freedom fighters who would stand with her against the Motherworld. Without fail, each one is introduced through lengthy expositional dialogue about all the things they’ve done to thwart the Motherworld in the past… and then we meet them, and they do virtually nothing.

But narrative sluggishness and stagnant, hollow characters aren’t really a surprise in a Snyder joint. Far and away the most disappointing aspects of the film are the visual palette and action. If nothing else, I was relatively confident Snyder would bring his signature, garish panache to the cosmic compositions and interstellar spectacle.

But holy shit, this is one of the ugliest movies of the year. Snyder handles the cinematography himself on this one—something he started doing with Army of the Dead. I think maybe he should go back to delegating that role. His highlights and shadows are crushed and flat. The relentless use of shallow focus and aggressive anamorphic bokeh make the film genuinely difficult to look at. Saturation is cranked way down (so you know this is a serious story). Even the slow-motion—a Snyder staple—is mostly abused to make boring shots seem somewhat exciting, rather than emphasizing a powerful silhouette or punctuating an action beat.

The aesthetic design of Rebel Moon’s universe also sucks. Sure, many of the sets and costumes look like they could’ve been repurposed from Rogue One (which, warts aside—pretty great-looking movie), but they aren’t shot in a way that emphasizes their scale or distinguishing features. And they aren’t anything you haven’t seen before.

There’s just a total lack of inventiveness present in both the written and visual worldbuilding. The Motherworld forces—this film’s space Nazis, standing-in for Star Wars’ Empire—are simply that: Nazis, in space. They look like they stepped off the set of a WWII film. They even wear the Hitler Youth high-and-tight haircuts! Creative.

Kora is, at times, Luke Skywalker, and at others, Jyn Erso. Kai (Charlie Hunnam) is Han Solo. Jimmy, the robot voiced by Anthony Hopkins, is basically K-2SO. Nemesis (Bae Doona) is a mysterious ronin-type with lightsabers. Hopkins’ opening monologue is the title crawl. The film even seems to tease some kind of analogue for the Force.

I could write 1,500 words consisting entirely of, “This thing in Rebel Moon is just that thing from Star Wars,” and so on, but that wouldn’t really be productive. This movie is a Star Wars knockoff, obviously. And I don’t really mind it wearing that on its sleeve. But is it too much to expect some kind of meaningful spin on the formula? It’s just playing out every familiar beat, using familiar (watered-down) character archetypes, and setting it all against familiar backdrops.

There’s a spider-person played by Jena Malone. Never seen that in Star Wars.

When I say this movie is worthless, I don’t use the term lightly. Lots of films fail to justify the money it took to make them, or the resuscitation of a legacy property, or whatever. But Rebel Moon fails at every possible level. It fails to put a new stamp on the Star Wars formula. It fails to tell a story that’s remotely worth following. It fails to generate empathy for any of its cardboard-cutout characters. It fails as an action spectacle, being so visually drab and ugly that it’s downright hard on the eyes. It’s flat-out the worst film Snyder has ever made.

To make matters worse, Rebel Moon is, by design, not even the film Snyder really wanted to make. As mentioned before, we’ll be getting an R-rated director’s cut at some point in the near future, which Snyder claims is almost an entirely different film. Though this isn’t a case like the theatrical cut of Justice League, with which he was virtually uninvolved. He effectively shot two versions of this film, knowing that one of them had to be PG-13 for initial release; on the other one, he was apparently allowed to go buck-wild. I have a hard time imagining it will be good, but it may just have a smidge more personality. It will, at the very least, be more violent and vulgar.

So if you’re hell-bent on experiencing the true, unadulterated “Zack Snyder’s Star Wars,” just wait for that. This version, available on Netflix today, is a waste of space.

Check out our Odd Trilogies’ Freakquel #10: Rebel Moon—part of our exploration of Zack Snyder’s entire filmography!

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Wishes he could forego sleep to watch more movies. Besides co-hosting Odd Trilogies and writing reviews, Andy builds Gundam models, loves on his three cats, and spends way too much time managing his Plex server. You can follow his movie-watching habits on Letterboxd.

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