Rebel Moon: Part One - A Child Of Fire


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rebel Moon: Part One - A Child Of Fire
"It’s a film which deserves to be watched in a group and enthusiastically heckled, with a bit of popcorn-throwing to add to the fun." | Photo: Netflix

No matter how much snow or how many elves you have to offer, what most people really want from a film at Christmas is blockbuster action. We know this from box office and streamer stats, and it’s backed up by basic psychology. The year is coming to a close. We’ve worked hard and experienced a fair bit of stress. It’s cold, daylight is at a premium and many of us are keeping company with family member who, for all that we might love them, definitely get on our nerves. Of course we want to see something explode. Zack Snyder understands that. In this, part one of a hoped-for new saga (with filming on part two already underway), he takes all the classic elements of the science fiction or fantasy action spectacular and condenses them for our viewing pleasure. The result is a ridiculous mess, but it may nonetheless be just what you need.

It reminded this reviewer, more than anything, of 1980 schlock classic Battle Beyond The Stars, itself a sci-fi takes on The Magnificent Seven (which was, of course, based on Akira Kurosawa’s magnificent Seven Samurai). Snyder knows how to deliver space opera by numbers and twee as it is, the amount of clichés that he manages to pack into a single film is impressive. It’s a film which deserves to be watched in a group and enthusiastically heckled, with a bit of popcorn-throwing to add to the fun.

Copy picture

The dialogue is, or course, uniformly terrible. “The very idea of love and family was beaten out of me,” says heroine Kora (Sofia Boutella) at the start, letting us know what we’re in for. She’s a former outlaw (and, it turns out, a lot of other things) hiding out in a galactic backwater with a group of subsistence-farming Vikings (don’t ask). She wants to stop running, find a peaceful home, and all the rest of it, but those hopes are thwarted when a large spaceship known as a Dreadnaught suddenly lands there are a troupe of space Nazis strolls out of it (the uniforms have been adapted a bit, the hats less so). They want pretty much all the grain the place can produce, which would leave the locals to starve. kora insists it’s not her problem, but changes her mind when a local girl is (with extreme gratuitousness, but hey, Snyder managed a whole 28 minutes before going there this time) threatened with rape. A spectacularly silly fight sequence follows, and after that Kora basically has no choice but to set out to lead a rebellion against the all-powerful bad guys before they find and kill her and everyone she’s ever known.

Accompanying her is ordinary farm boy Gunnar. In the absence of any available Chris, he’s played by Michiel Huisman, who does his best impression of a Chris. Most of the rest of the film concerns their efforts to build an army. This starts with Kai (Charlie Hunnam), a scruffy looking pilot who describes himself as “a bit of an opportunist”. They go on to acquire Tarak (Staz Nair), a long-haired muscular slave guy with a secret past who intuitively understands animals, Beastmaster-style, and who never deigns to put on any more clothes no matter where they go. Next up is Nemesis (Bae Doona, who, in the absence of lines, does her best to make her presence felt by glowering). She’s a sword-wielding warrior with a strict honour code and a thirst for revenge, who sometimes uses thinly disguised lightsabers instead. Just in case you thought that was enough of a stereotype, we also get Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), a Black revolutionary with dreadlocks and heavy forehead make-up (perhaps inspired by Furiosa), who fights with a spear. Finally, there’s Titus (Djimon Hounsou), a disgraced former general whose feelings of guilt about the deaths of his men have driven him to alcoholism. Oh, and there’s some lassie with woad on her face, apropos of nothing.

Although you’d think these ‘characters’ didn’t need much building, Snyder spends a fair bit of time on it, and that’s not such a bad thing, because it means that we get to see Nemesis fight a giant spider monster (which is really bad at fighting back, like many a Snyder bad guy, but it’s still fun). Tarak bonds with an utterly adorable giant raven/griffin thingy which, despite the CGI, has something of the charm of an old stop-motion Harryhausen creation. There’s a lot of great creature design, especially in the background, where one imagines that the effects team were more at liberty to play. Ed Skrein’s lead bad guy spends his private time getting intimate with a tentacle monster, and the abundance of such details helps to give the various worlds a lived-in feel, despite the shallowness of the actual plot.

Parts of it are in poor taste. That initial attempted rape is not the only incidence of sexual violence, and for all that Snyder thinks he’s being clever by turning things round, with his heroine coming to the rescue, there’s a nastiness about it which sits awkwardly in what is otherwise quite an amiable little adventure movie. Likewise, the little lectures about the need for everybody to be more cynical and pre-emptively violent are as out of place as they are philosophically vapid. The film is at its best when not pretending to be clever. There’s a lot of fighting, involving numerous ridiculous stunts, and though it’s not particularly well shot, it keeps things pacey. There are glamorous costumes and shiny weapons. There are explosions which are both orange and teal at the same time. A large budget was no doubt splurged on this, but in essence it’s a great little B-movie, and if you go into it expecting that, you won’t be too disappointed.

Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2023
Share this with others on...
Rebel Moon: Part One - A Child Of Fire packshot
When a peaceful settlement on the edge of a distant moon finds itself threatened by the armies of a tyrannical ruling force, a mysterious stranger living among its villagers becomes their best hope for survival.
Amazon link

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Shay Hatten

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Bae Doona, Charlie Hunnan, Ray Fisher, Stax Nair, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Cleopatra Coleman, Anthony Hopkins

Year: 2023

Runtime: 133 minutes

Country: US, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver