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‘Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire’: A feast for the eyes

Jack Travis
/
kuaf

Zack Snyder. That’s a name which inspires so much fervor and online vitriol. And the director has a new movie out. Finally leaving the DC universe behind, Snyder has brought sci-fi fans an epic space opera called “Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire.”

Since this film was announced it seems there have been two camps. Snyder’s die-hard fans (the same ones who successfully waged a multi-year campaign of pressure to push Warner Bros to release his cut of “Justice League”) heralded this movie as the coming of a darker, grittier “Star Wars.” Though, to clarify, this movie has nothing to do with “Star Wars.” That’s just the default when talking about sci-fi set in space.

And the other camp were those who believe Snyder to be nothing more than a slow-motion enthusiast incapable of making a complete story without releasing 27 cuts of his movies.

Despite an abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score and early crucifixion from other critics, “Rebel Moon” is a visually-stunning film that has a fun (though thin) narrative and interesting characters who all deserve more backstory.

Any fan of “Seven Samurai” or “The Magnificent Seven” is already familiar with this story. A farm village on the independent world of Veldt is visited by a brutal space empire called the Motherworld. They demand grain from the village and vow to return and collect it. And a woman from the village named Kora (Sofia Boutella) has to assemble a ragtag team of warriors to defend the town.

The story of “Rebel Moon” doesn’t think far outside the box. And that’s fine because obviously this is a setup that has worked in movies and television for decades. If it ain’t broke, right?

Kora travels to nearby planets to assemble her team and recruits a former Motherworld general named Titus (Djimon Hounsou), a cyborg swordswoman named Nemesis (Bae Doona), a rebellion leader named Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), and an ex-prince who became a blacksmith named Tarak (Staz Nair).

Together, they’ll have to defend Veldt against a brutal military machine led by the tyrant Balisarius (Fra Fee). He dispatches an admiral named Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) to hunt for rebels, and he’ll be the one who leads the crushing attack against Kora’s home. If Kora’s team can’t stop him, Noble will plunder the village’s grain and leave so little behind that the people will starve.

“Rebel Moon” is without question a film that puts style ahead of substance. And that’s an automatic sin in the eyes of some critics. But the movie makes up for its thin story and underdeveloped characters by having tons of visual aesthetic. It’s hard to understate how gorgeous this film is. Snyder offers up so many cinematic shots in between his trademarked slow-motion fight sequences.

The aliens that inhabit this galaxy are all vibrant and distinct. And each recruit Kora comes in contact with just oozes cool with costume designs that wow and leave viewers wanting to see more. Through all of “Rebel Moon,” the only visual disappointment were the starships. Their designs are rather bland, and the CGI leaves them looking more like objects from an Xbox game rather than a sci-fi blockbuster. But everything else? Stellar.

Snyder’s characters all offer hints of deeper story to come in the sequel. And with how much fun this initial outing was, “Rebel Moon” makes for an acceptable IOU with a promise for more grand adventure to come in part two.

The film’s biggest issue comes down to relying on the tired trope of sexual assault to quickly establish who the movie’s villains are. “Rebel Moon” has two scenes of sexual assault, and the fact that both a man and a girl are the victims doesn’t exactly balance out. It’s an overused and harmful gimmick that needs to be retired. There are plenty of other ways to show just how evil a film’s antagonists can be that don’t rely on violently pulling assault victims out of the story for entire minutes at a time.

“Rebel Moon” didn’t deserve to be shot down so viciously and quickly just because of the man behind the camera. It’s a fast-paced space epic that has a lot to offer. The film isn’t without flaws, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some would have audiences believe. It’s a world full of characters that all deserve much more in the future, and here’s hoping the sequel will deliver on their promises given in part one.

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Courtney Lanning is a film critic who appears weekly on <i>Ozarks At Large</i> to discuss the latest in movies.
Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large.
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