REVIEW: Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (2023)

After getting off to a promising start, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (henceforth just Rebel Moon) squanders its potential by devolving into a tedious sequence of character introductions for people who never actually become characters, bloodless action scenes that remove all suspense by making everyone act like idiots, and glaring exposition in place of characterization. A movie this derivative should have spent more time learning what made its forbears work so well.

Years after a kingdom was conquered and turned into a fascist empire called Motherworld, a woman named Kora (Sofia Boutella) finds a home in a small farming community. When Motherworld’s military forces enslave the farmers, Kora – who has a history with the Motherworld military – sets off to assemble a team of warriors who can liberate them from their oppressors.

The opening quarter of Rebel Moon is not bad; the farming community is quaint and feels realistic within the sci-fi setting. When the military, led by Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), arrives and forces themselves on the peaceful workers, you feel their fear and frustration. Their leader (Corey Stoll, who gives the best performance in the film), typically a strong man, is caught between a rock and a hard place, and it’s the impetuousness of his second-in-command, Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), that brings the boot of Motherworld on their neck. And though she’s clearly the lead, Kora is kept at arm’s length, always just outside of each scene to emphasize her outsider status. Everything happens gradually, and once Kora and Gunnar set off to find their team, the stage is set for an exciting and human story.

That’s where it all goes south. The next leg of Rebel Moon is Kora finding each member of her crew, and it goes on for almost the entire next three quarters of the film. This is essentially The Magnificent Seven in space, which could work, but Rebel Moon doesn’t understand much about the Western classic beyond the basic setup. The Magnificent Seven put the team together fairly quickly and spent the bulk of its story characterizing each of the Seven through their interactions with each other and the townsfolk they were hired to protect. Rebel Moon wastes so much time tracking down and recruiting each warrior that it has no time for character development; they are all reduced to their gimmicks. One guy can talk to animals, which is never brought up after his introduction. One woman is a cyborg samurai (whose outfit looks like the one Rick wore at the beginning of the Rick and Morty episode “Rickmurai Jack”) whose personality is that she has two swords that get really hot. And that’s how it goes, putting the team together and then fast-tracking to the climax.

Rebel Moon Part One

The seeds for this are planted in the early scenes, which, despite being mostly good, have some bad moments that become the norm for Rebel Moon. For example, there’s a subplot about a robot that was a soldier for the deposed king that is now so weak-willed that it simply serves Motherworld without a fight. (How a robot can be traumatized rather than reprogrammed is not discussed.) This robot then goes through what the film thinks is a character arc involving a local girl, a garrison of soldiers left behind to control the farmers, and the droppings of an alien horse. There is no logical progression for the robot’s development, and once the sequence is over, it’s never mentioned again. That the robot is voiced by Anthony Hopkins adds insult to injury. There is a promise that more to this will come in Part Two, but that’s not good enough; if you’re separating a movie into halves, you need to make both function as their own narratives, like Kill Bill, for example.

And that’s at the heart of Rebel Moon’s problems: it barely holds together as a story on its own. All the time wasted assembling the mercenary team drags so long that the finale is rushed, with some of the characters disappearing once the action starts. Why make such a fuss about their various combat skills if you’re not going to demonstrate them during the climax? Why waste time giving them meaningless sidequests instead of getting them to the farming village so they can prepare for the real fight? Why tie them into the conflict with Motherworld if you’re not going to use it to make them human and three-dimensional, or at least pay it off in the story? In place of that are some scenes where characters are either described or describe themselves, and it doesn’t connect because it feels like a kid on the playground talking about why they can’t die when you start pretending to shoot them. When Rebel Moon ends, you don’t feel like you know these people any better, and their personalities are so non-existent you’ll need Google to remember their names.

Rebel Moon Part One

It doesn’t help that the acting is so inconsistent. Sofia Boutella is fine in the lead, suffering more from having little to work with than a lack of talent. But Charlie Hunnam continues to be the worst actor who ever lived, dancing around, exaggerating his dialogue, and making outlandish faces because he doesn’t seem to know how a human being talks or behaves. Ed Skrein is not bad as the villain, making the face of the Motherworld military a petty bully you want to see beaten to a pulp. Aside from Corey Stoll’s early scenes, no one else gets much of anything to chew on, which makes the rest of the performances flat and listless. Djimon Hounsou is completely wasted in a truncated role that never lets him do much more than take deep breaths to indicate his troubled past. The rest of the team members are their gimmicks, and that’s it. There isn’t much to care about in Rebel Moon because the characters don’t make you care about them.

Visually, Rebel Moon has its ups and downs. The special effects are mostly great, with some stunning aliens, ships, and landscapes. The robot is incredibly well-rendered and looks lifelike despite its lack of tactility. But there are a handful of instances where the effects are bad; one scene involving tentacles is downright awful, and they’re so random and needless that I don’t understand why they weren’t cut from the film. The same goes for the filmmaking; there are some wonderful shots in the movie, but also some bad edits and odd angles and perspectives. This is especially true in the action scenes, where some of the kills are obscured by focusing on characters that aren’t currently fighting anyone. This ruins what would have been some satisfying payoffs, as a few bad guys we needed to see get paid back are relegated to the background during their comeuppance, with the focus on something boring instead. I suspect this was to secure a PG-13 rating, but I don’t know why they bothered since Rebel Moon is a Netflix movie. Why tease hard, bloody violence only to pull back when it’s time to show the audience the goods? It doesn’t help that the villains keep forgetting that they’re carrying guns, knives, or other deadly weapons; one fight has a monster about to murder one of our heroes with a spear, but then she just… kinda… doesn’t. It’s nonsensical, and it indicates that little thought went into staging these scenes.

Rebel Moon Part One

And that’s Rebel Moon in a nutshell. It’s the promise of a fun, cool, bloody, thrilling science-fiction movie that flounders under its own weight, doesn’t realize its potential, ignores the potentially interesting storylines it sets up, never lets its characters become more than types, and for all its visual flourishes, fails to dazzle because it fumbles the human element.

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire (2023)

Plot - 5
Acting - 6
Directing/Editing - 7
Music/Sound - 6
Special Effects - 8



Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire begins with a lot of potential but quickly devolves into a soulless, boring sci-fi film that wanders aimlessly and never lets its characters come to life.

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