Rebel Moon review: Zack Snyder's space opera is meandering and derivative
An abundance of sombre exposition and FX-heavy, slo-mo action only overshadows the efforts of the film's ensemble cast.
Now that Zack Snyder is no longer the driving force behind the DC Extended Universe that he helped launch in 2013 with Man of Steel, the director has set his sights on a galaxy far, far away for his latest action epic.
No, not a Star Wars adventure, but the first instalment of a planned franchise (with Part Two due out next April) that bears more than a passing resemblance to George Lucas’s seminal 1977 space opera.
After all, the story is set in a universe where a rapacious empire (here called the Motherworld) has turned increasingly tyrannical following the murder of its beloved ruler and his family.
So, even a settlement of simple farming folk on a distant moon called Veldt cannot remain immune from imperial occupation, as demonstrated when their rustic idyll is shattered by the arrival of Ed Skrein’s gleefully lethal Admiral Atticus Noble, who orders his thuggish forces to hoover up the fruits of the villagers’ labours and not to spare the rod.
So far, so repressive, but then Noble’s brutal minions fail to reckon on the presence in the community of enigmatic stranger Kora (Sofia Boutella), whose attempt to live the quiet life belies the fact she has an axe to grind with the empire – quite literally – and redemption to find.
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Once Kora has been provoked into action, the plot heads into Magnificent Seven territory, as she and lovelorn farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) embark on a galactic search for warriors to take a stand against the nefarious Noble and his ominously powerful master, the Regent Balisarius (Fra Fee).
This meandering quest to assemble a team with a particular set of skills also opens the way for Snyder to pay homage to the sort of movies that captured his youthful imagination in the 1970s and '80s.
So, there’s a buff Beastmaster type (Staz Nair) who can talk to the animals - Conan the Veterinarian, if you like; a cyborg swordswoman (Doona Bae) who hails from a city out of Blade Runner; Titus, a disillusioned genius general-turned-drunken gladiator (played by Gladiator star Djimon Hounsou); and ferocious rebel leader Darrien Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher).
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But Star Wars is never far from the surface, as with the cantina scene homage and introduction of mercenary pilot Kai, played by Charlie Hunnam as a rogue with a brogue.
And if you are looking for droid representation, there is a mechanical knight left behind on Veldt, who is the last of a race that served under the dead king, but is now nothing more than a figure of derision for imperial soldiers.
Boutella (The Mummy), Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy, Shazam!), Fisher (Justice League) and Game of Thrones alumni Nair, Huisman and Skrein have the genre chops when it comes to fantasy and comic book fare.
However, an abundance of sombre exposition and FX-heavy, slo-mo action only overshadows their efforts. At least Skrein has a ball as a deliciously unhinged but formidable henchman.
With the second part, The Scargiver, due for release next year, let’s hope Snyder can breathe life into his characters and unhitch his wagons from Lucas’s landmark to establish a universe and mythology of his own.
Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire is now showing in select cinemas and will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 22nd December. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.