Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon review: a fandom menace

The trouble with trying to create original sci-fi epics in the vein of Star Wars is that the classics are so culturally ever-present that newer films always tend to feel like pale imitations. Zack Snyder is far from the first director to take that reality as a challenge to prove how, with the right ideas, stars, and studio, the wheel could be reinvented or at least cleverly reimagined. But Snyder’s nascent Rebel Moon film franchise — the second part of which just hit Netflix — is so narratively derivative, emotionally inert, and overlong that it seems as if this entire project is just cruising along on limp vibes rather than heading toward an intended destination.

Between two (so far) interconnected films that, together, clock in at a little over four hours, the story being told in Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire and Part Two: The Scargiver seems like it should feel more complex. But there’s a baffling simplicity to almost everything that defines Rebel Moon’s heroic lead, Kora (Sofia Boutella), and her quest to topple a fascist empire with the help of a ragtag group of freedom fighters from different planets across the galaxy.

Part One introduced Kora as a former Imperium soldier hiding on the agrarian planet Veldt after being disowned by her adoptive father, Balisarius (Fra Fee), as part of his plan to seize control of the empire. After years of following Balisarius’ orders to kill alongside his admiral Noble (Ed Skrein), Kora knew the costs that could come with resisting the Imperium’s might. But her love for Veldt and its salt-of-the-earth natives, like wheat farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), was enough to convince her to stop hiding. A Child of Fire never seemed all that interested in establishing how Kora’s small rebellion could become formidable enough to legitimately challenge an intergalactic power. But the movie did introduce other righteous warriors like blacksmith Tarak (Staz Nair), former general Titus (Djimon Hounsou), and cyborg assassin Nemesis (Doona Bae), whose unexplored backstories all felt like they could be vital pieces of a fascinating tale.

The first Rebel Moon played like two hours of throat-clearing as Kora rallied her newfound allies to Veldt’s cause in between set pieces that each felt the sort of mildly imaginative, slowed-down action sequences Snyder’s known for. By closing out on Kora seemingly killing Noble, though, the movie appeared to be setting the stage for The Scargiver to hit the ground running and finally make clear what Snyder was trying to accomplish with his thinly-veiled Luke Skywalker analog. But rather than pushing Rebel Moon’s story forward in a meaningful way, The Scargiver instead retreads ground its predecessor already established. 

And while it spends some time gesturing toward the existence of a larger universe brimming with potential for interesting stories, those gestures are clumsy to the point of making it feel like Snyder doesn’t have a solid vision for this franchise beyond its ability to mimic things you’ve seen elsewhere, albeit executed with far more skill. You can almost hear Snyder reminiscing about how blown away he was by The Matrix as a disoriented Noble returns from the dead in The Scargiver with a series of tubes affixed to various parts of his pale body that’s encased in a gooey chrysalis. 

Noble isn’t the film’s biggest bad, but The Scargiver frames him as a Darth Vader-like figure as he chokes subordinates to remind them who he is. Back on Veldt, Kora’s relief is quickly dashed as word of Noble’s resurrection spreads, and it becomes clear that the Imperium intends to attack the planet for its defiance. But rather than building on that looming sense of dread, The Scargiver instead doubles down on its Seven Samurai inspiration with a series of sequences designed to emphasize how the people of Veldt are just mere farmers who need Korra and her allies to protect them.

As The Scargiver’s farmers sing solemn hymns while reaping their crops, Snyder seems to be following in the footsteps of the Hunger Games films, where music played an important role in establishing a deeper connection between District 12 and the US’s Appalachian region. But when you actually listen to what the farmers are saying, the biggest takeaway is that they would be helpless to defend themselves against the Imperium because all they know how to do is work land with simple tools. Those details were already readily apparent in the first film, which is part of why Kora spelling them out in The Scargiver feels so silly. At the same time, however, the new film’s story is so thin that it’s hard to imagine Kora having all that much to say to her followers other than warning them that they won’t all survive the coming battle.

Boutella and her co-stars make an admirable go of trying to make these characters feel like they could be compelling in better circumstances. You can see flashes of genuine imagination where the gang comes together to share their histories as if that knowledge might somehow contain a secret that would help them defeat Noble and Balisarius. It doesn’t, but it does briefly shift The Scargiver’s focus away from Veldt to other, more inspired worlds in flashbacks that all feel like snippets ripped from more exciting films gestating in Snyder’s subconscious. But those moments are regrettably brief and ultimately don’t add much context to the story at hand, which drags at a glacial pace because of how much time The Scargiver spends focusing on Kora and the others, basically waiting to be attacked.

Even in its explosive climax as the Imperium descends on Veldt, The Scargiver has an air of undercookedness because it isn’t all that clear how that one singular battle could change things on a larger scale. Dune was able to steer clear of that issue by making Arrakis a uniquely powerful planet by way of its valuable natural resources. But The Scargiver lacks that sort of worldbuilding — the kind that makes you understand why people want things they’re willing to kill for. Instead, the movie closes out on a cliffhanger and a twist that’s only surprising because of how forgettable the character it involves is.

That is far from the ideal note for the second installment in a sci-fi film franchise that, so far, has cost upwards of $166 million to produce. But it’s one that Snyder’s comfortable landing on. Ironically, it wouldn’t be quite as disappointing if ​​Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver was a proper period at the end of a sentence. Snyder has made it clear that he wants to keep cranking these things out, though, and with Netflix having recently signed him to a new overall deal, it seems very possible that he might do just that.

Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver also stars Ray Fisher, Elise Duffy, Anthony Hopkins, Alfonso Herrera, Stuart Martin, Cary Elwes, and Charlotte Maggi. The movie is now streaming on Netflix.

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