Rebel Moon, why couldn't you be better than this?
dir: Zach Snyder
This is pretty ordinary, but it’s ordinary within what I think of as normal parameters. If any other director made this, whoever saw it would have shrugged, farted, and probably rolled over and gone to sleep without ever thinking about it ever again.
It’s like when some average car company comes up with a shitty new car: No-one other than the people dumb enough to buy those cars will care. But when someone bills themselves as a genius comes up with a terribly shitty car, like, say, the so-called Cybertruck, well, then you have to take especial notice and deliver especial insults / criticism.
People, mainly press hacks or PR flacks used to call Zach Snyder a visionary, but they stopped, several films ago, because the extent of his vision involved shitty CGI, slow motion sequences, and terrible scripts. And anyone can make that without being called a visionary. Plus, they (being Warner Brothers) started noticing that nothing he made actually made money, regardless of how much the fanboys slavered over his crap.
And since nature apparently abhors a vacuum, Netflix threw money at him and said “make whatever crap you want, we don’t care, as long as it’s content.” And, here it is, daddy made you some content.
And what content it is… This is rumoured to be pretty much a script Snyder proposed to the Lucasfilm people as a possible R rated Star Wars flick, with all the Star Wars actual references taken out when they rejected it. So what you’re left with is less a new science fiction space opera epic original intellectual property, and more a “new” generic science fiction IP so generic that it looks and sounds like every other science fiction IP you’ve ever seen. It’s so generic I’m amazed that the characters don’t accidentally talk about using the Force or about mining spice on Arrakis. It’s not just that we’re trained to expect these things and see them everywhere, it’s just that anyone working on anything like this knows what tropes to follow and how to make everything look just so everything is so fucking familiar and comfortable for everyone.
So when I tell you that the first part of the flick occurs on a farm, and everyone’s dressed like they’re in a Western, you won’t be that surprised or shocked. You’ll just think “how visionary! It’s only something I’ve seen twenty or more times in science fiction flicks!”
Also, like me, if you watch this, you will feel delighted every time you hear someone say “we’re just simple farmers” or “he’s just a simple farmer”. How surprised will you be when the “simple farmer” rises up and saves the day? You know, which never happens, expect when it does, like, every time?
These salt of the earth simple farmers grow grain, to feed themselves of course, but also to have a little extra, a little something-something for either trade or to use in times of need. They have a community mostly made up of Aryan poster children. You know, mostly Nordic types. But there are a couple of people there with different complexions. One of them clearly isn’t a simple farmer, because she’s as buff as Sarah Conner in Terminator 2. And she is called Kora (Sofia Boutella).
I’ve seen her in a bunch of stuff, perhaps most notably when she played an assassin with prosthetic blades for legs in the Kingsmen movie, but I think she’s meant to be the lead in this, which is good for her, but this is not a flick that is going to be remembered fondly by anyone. Even Zach Snyder, when he’s arguing that somewhere out there lurks a “true” cut of the film that matches his actual vision, unhampered by executive notes or compromises, is going to forget all about this in a few month’s time.
But maybe he’ll remember enjoying working with these people, oh so many people.
When a ship from the Empire, sorry, the Motherworld arrives and says “give us all your grain AND we’ll probably kill you anyway”, the simple hicks mostly think “let’s give them all the grain, and maybe they’ll like us?” But Kora knows the Motherworld, for whatever reason, and she knows they’re all doomed.
The ship leaves a contingent of soldiers behind, who start bullying the local yokels. What’s strangest about this bit is that most of the soldiers, except one, have pronounced South African – Afrikaner accents. Snyder, in case we didn’t get it with the fascist iconography and Charlottesville “the Jews will not replace us” haircuts, really underlines everything with red pen in case we don’t get it.
There’s no more hateful sounding accent, is there? The soldiers decide to rape one of the farmers, and Kora can’t allow that, so with the help of a narrating robot voiced by Sir Anthony Hopkins (I wish I was joking), she kills them all.
Lucky, eh? And, just like George Lucas ripped off Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress for the original Star Wars, Snyder’s spends the first hour ripping off Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Well, it’s not really ripping off at this stage, is it? So many flicks have used it as their basis, so much so that it’s one of the integral plots of moviemaking. A ragtag group of rebels and weirdos brought together by luck or accident, who fight together against a superior force, emerging triumphant, it’s pretty much every second movie now.
I’m not, therefore, opposed to a director making another version of it, in theory. I enjoyed the original, which is over three hours long, but am unlikely to ever sit through it ever again, let’s be honest. But I’ve enjoyed other versions of it, like The Magnificent Seven, or the remake with Denzel, or when Takashi Miike updated the original and made his supremely gory and propulsive 13 Assassins. The pleasure of the first part of the set up is actually watching the group being put together.
So when that part of the flick kicked off here, I didn’t mind so much. But even I was struck, even with all the goodwill in the world, by how fucking random this part of the flick is.
You watch parts of the flick and think, often, “Did I miss something?” Even if you watch it stone cold sober. There really seems to be a lot of the connective tissue, the moments that situate us in what’s happening, missing.
They’ll go somewhere for…reasons. They’ll see a person and say “hey, join us in protecting some peasants on a moon”, and people wisely will say “um, no?”, and then something will happen, something quite random that nevermore connects with any other part of the flick, and then they’ll say “okay, Imma come fight for them peasants on that moon.”
This happens three times, at least. They approach a fearsome lightsabre swordswoman called Nemesis (Bae Doona), and she says “yeah-nah”. Then she fights a kid-killing spiderwoman(!), and says “nah-yeah.”
They approach a really buff slave guy (Staz Nair) and he says “would that I could, Sir”, but then in order to fight for peasants he’s never met, has to ride a griffin? And then after riding the griffin, he’s like “after you, Sir”.
My “favourite” bit is when they go somewhere (again) have just watched a jerk (Charlie Hunnam) sell someone out to the Empire, and they think “he was really cool on Sons of Anarchy, we should definitely recruit this guy?” and then later on I wonder if he’s going to sell them out to the Empire?
Plus that Irish accent he uses is pretty terrible. He’s no Han Solo / Lando Calrissian, not by a longshot.
Then, THEN they have to find another guy, a famous general (the great Djimon Hounsou). They walk up to him and say “join us to fight for the peasants”. He yells “NO!”, drinks more, but then a little while later, with very little convincing, says “okay”.
Wow, that lead character Kora assembling this crew of people to avenge her (adoptive) people, she must be really charismatic, really convincing or…something?
If she is, evidence of that must lie on the editing room floor, because there’s very little that we get to see that explains why people go along with her other than the necessity of the plot.
I also didn’t mention that when they recruit that general Titus, it’s in a place that literally looks Roman and has gladiators and shit. You know, just like in Gladiator, which Djimon Hounsou famously was in. When they recruit Nemesis, it’s the set of Blade Runner. When they get Charlie Hunnam’s character, it’s a Japanese historical-style saloon type place, except instead of swinging doors, they’re sliding doors, you guessed it, in the shape of saloon doors.
When they’re having a climactic fight towards the end, it’s pretty much like Bespin – Cloud City – that setting at the end of Empire Strikes Back. To be clear I’m not saying these settings as represented in the flick vaguely reminded me of these other places; they’re meant to completely remind us of those other places, so that we feel like we’re watching something awfully familiar. With digital green-screen stuff, it’s probably easier and quicker to just push certain buttons marked “Generic science fiction set design, with a hint of…” than come up with your own original imagery.
Just yell “make it look like off-brand Star Wars!” at the programmers, it’s not like they have lives or autonomy or anything, plus they all know they’ll be replaced with AI soon.
And I haven’t even gotten to the part where I mention that all of the overarching Imperium / Motherworld / Slain King / Empire stuff comes across like someone glanced at the Cliff Notes version of the Dune novels and thought they’d painfully insert that crap in there too. As if there wasn’t enough tedious shit going on already…
Snyder doesn’t do humour, apparently, any more. There is no lightness to the script, no quirkiness, no attempts to be clever. It’s earnest, everything is earnest and on the surface, no subtext to the text. And it’s often quite stultifying. It’s almost like Ayn Rand herself wrote the script.
The action sequences… if you’re a fan of that speed-up slow-down crap that Snyder has been doing since 300, well, that happens here too, only with the pew-pew of laser guns and fake lightsabres and spears and shit as well.
For all my criticisms, and all my acknowledgement of how sub-standard much of this is, and how sedimentary all these accumulated reference points are, I am genuinely curious about watching the next chapter, because it could be even more of a train wreck that the first part.
And I “like” watching train wrecks, especially when no-one gets hurt (except for their egos).
At the very least, this isn’t as categorically awful as Jupiter Ascending was, which means they should have at least hired Eddie Redmayne, but that flick was so terrible it was almost awe-inspiring to watch. This is more likely to inspire yawns than shock or awe.
It's just so fucking random. That robot at the beginning… turning up again after two and a half hours, with the antlers on its head… I just had to laugh. Zach Snyder has access to hallucinogenic drugs the rest of us can only dream about, because he takes them during production, and sees something that clearly we are never going to see in his films, because we just have the drugs regular scum have access to. Until we get access to your precious supply, Snyder, your flicks are going to look like something generated by a blender and some printer / fax machine from the mid 1980s that fell onto a Sandman panel van with some funky spray art on the sides. There ain’t nothing visionary about your visions any more.
4 times Rebel Moon Part 1 A Child of Fire – gives generic shit a bad name out of 10
"Do not celebrate this. There's no honour in this. This could easily be any of you lying here in the gutter of some forgotten world in the name of revenge. You would do well to remember that." - um okay but I don't remember asking - Rebel Moon: A Child of Fire