Film Review – Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire

Zack Snyder is a filmmaker who has always put effort into making big, bold, and splashy imagery. Whether it’s superheroes, Spartans, zombies, or an army of owls, Snyder has routinely leaned toward dark and dramatic visual compositions. That would explain why he so often chooses to shoot his action in slow motion, because he wants the images to make an impression. This approach has become such an identifying signature that other areas tend to take a hit, especially when it comes to writing. His latest endeavor, Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire (2023) continues this trend. Despite a wide scope and plenty of spectacle, the weaknesses in story and character make the narrative feel thin.

Snyder (who also cowrites with Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten) does not hide his cinematic influences. In fact, he places them so much in the forefront that it plays like a badge of honor. Not only does he heavily borrow from Star Wars (1977), but he also lifts from Seven Samurai (1954) which, as it turns out, was a big influence on George Lucas when he made Star Wars. What goes around comes around. Artists paying homage to the past is an old tradition and is not inherently bad in theory. The issue with Rebel Moon is that it does not do enough to set itself apart. Because it follows the same blueprint with little variation, it doesn’t get an opportunity to establish an identity of its own. How can this stand by itself if it keeps reminding us of other films?


Tell me if this sounds familiar: Kora (Sofia Boutella) is an outcast living a peaceful life as a farmer on a distant moon. Her adopted village is small but content with their ways. That is, until a military force representing a tyranny known as the “Mother World” arrives. Led by a vicious and cruel leader named Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), the invaders order the villagers to harvest their crops for ten weeks, at which time the military will return to collect. If not, well, bad things will happen. Not one to be pushed around, Kora – along with fellow villager Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) – go on a quest to recruit warriors to fight off Noble and his henchmen. The merry band of freedom fighters hope to start, dare I say it, a “rebellion” against the evil “empire.” 

As the title would suggest, this is the first part of a supposed two-part series. While that knowledge indicates that there is more to this then what is presented, it does leave the initial entry with a lot of loose ends. It would be easy to simply say “Wait for the next installment to see if everything wraps up in a satisfying way,” but we can only review what is given to us. As a standalone film, this takes on an episodic structure, with Kora and Gunnar taking the near two- and a half-hour runtime to pick up or pay off volunteers. Amongst them are Kai (Charlie Hunnam), Tarak (Staz Nair), Nemesis (Bae Donna), Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), and Titus (Djimon Hounsou). None of them are painted with much dimension. Outside of Kora, who gets plenty of flashback scenes explaining her background, everyone else are made of surface-level traits and motivations.

But you’re not here for a deep character study or to examine the philosophical complexities of life under a fascist regime, are you? You want to know if this is fun and if the action is well done, right? In that regard, it’s a toss-up. Snyder and the rest of the production stuff the frame with epic sequences and large-scale set pieces. However, because Snyder is so obsessed with slow motion, it tampers down the excitement. Whenever the visuals pause in the middle of a fight or shoot out, it drains the momentum. The cinematography (also by Snyder) is in love with stopping on a closeup of Sofia Boutella’s face, right when she aims her gun to fire a laser beam. The approach creates a stop/start effect – we want the action to pick up but can’t get there because the slow motion takes us out of it. During another sequence, Tarak risks his life to tame a giant bird-like creature. In the key moment, Tarak jumps off a cliff to land on the animal’s back. The camera screeches to a halt just as Tarak is in the air, with the sun placed perfectly behind him and the bird plastered right below. Are we meant to be witnessing an action scene or a picture from a postcard?


When Snyder lets the action play out, it can be entertaining. One of the highlights is a fight scene between Nemesis and a half humanoid/half spider enemy. Wielding dual lightsabers – I mean “Laser Swords” – Nemesis twists and turns to avoid getting punctured by one of the arachnid’s legs. Because the production lays off the slow motion (in relative terms, anyway), the sequence has verve and style and dynamism. The film could have used a lot more of this. Instead, it basks in scenes where everything nearly stops in time, as if it’s telling the audience, “Hey, look at this cool shot, isn’t it awesome?” The textures are caked with dark reds, oranges, and browns, creating a muddy and unappealing palette – as though all the environments are covered in heavy smog.

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire does have its qualities. Ed Skrein plays an imposing and dastardly villain. Anthony Hopkins provides his voice talents to Jimmy, a robot not too dissimilar from one gold-plated character from a galaxy far, far away. It’s telling how Jimmy, despite barely having any screentime, has more emotional resonance than many of the human characters. And that’s the film in a nutshell – a collection of interesting pieces that make a disappointing whole. Perhaps when Part 2 comes out next year, we’ll have a better understanding of the entire story and (hopefully) a greater appreciation for what Snyder and co. are trying to do. As it stands, though, this is a sci-fi adventure that never really shifts out of first gear.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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