It’d be too easy to declare Rebel Moon an unoriginal idea of Seven Samurai in space, considering we’ve already had that very film with Battle Beyond the Stars. That’s not the main problem with a film like this. Numerous films have ripped the concept of a rebellious misfit ensemble coming together to defend a village. The biggest problem with Zack Snyder‘s latest sci-fi epic is that it’s a film more interested in its stylized worlds than any of the characters who occupy them.
It’s strange how a film over two hours long, and only the first half of a story, slogs through its familiar tale with dense yet dim world-building. The militaristic Motherworld, a not-so-subtle choice in the title for these space Nazis, besieges a distant galaxy. Seeking out rebels, the space Nazis target a farming planet, Veldt, to supply them with food, even if it means leaving nothing else for the people to eat. Not happy about this arrangement, the rebel-turned-farmer Kora (Sofia Boutella) goes on the offensive against these nasty soldiers who murder, steal resources, and rape the women. But she’ll need help if she hopes to get back at the sinister Admiral Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein).
Assembling the team is the entire premise of this 2.5-hour first chapter of a two-chapter saga. That adventure could be fun if each of the assembled mercenaries had some personality. Instead of exploring each figure for their chemistry and history, the ensemble becomes more memorable for the weapons they wield than the words they say. I can tell you that Doona Bae plays the cyborg wielding dual not-lightsabers, but not a whole lot more than that. I can tell you that Djimon Hounsou plays a warrior drowning in drink, but he seems to hold his liquor fairly fine, and it never really plays a part in the story. I can tell you that Staz Nair plays an experienced blacksmith and man of the woods who knows how to tame creatures but not a lot else.
This was a chore of a film to get through. There’s never any build-up for these characters or the galaxy they live within. It always feels like there’s an uncomfortable distance between the characters, where they rarely come together and keep any story going. As such, the film plays like a series of clunky, first-draft sci-fi short films that all meet up at the end for a lukewarm showdown of laser guns and swords. There’s not even all that much shock when it’s revealed that a mercenary starship pilot has turned on the heroes. I’ll admit there’s some surprise in the fact that the audience won’t see it coming because we don’t see much of anybody’s true personality in this dull quest for fighters.
This type of sci-fi film is needlessly dense with its lore and for so little. Consider how many different planets and people are introduced in this film. We get plenty of subtitles to inform us of how everything connects in this galaxy under the thumb of a fascist empire. One might try to relate this picture to Dune, considering the various planets and tribes established. But while Dune is enticing with each planet’s purpose in the fight for resources, Rebel Moon dumps it all on top of the audience as though we’re all supposed to be caught up on some previous source material that does not exist. What point is there in introducing all these planets when they all look like generic sci-fi landscapes coated in a filter layer of sludge?
The fights, which seem like they would be the biggest draw for the teens craving gritty sci-fi action, are deeply disappointing. Snyder is no stranger to filming action, but he shoots in the most unappealing way. The fight inside the barn with Boutella is diced up with egregious slow-motion shots and too many edits to appreciate the choreography fully. I will give the film some credit because Snyder does not make the slow-mo last as long in the shots of his director’s cut of Justice League. That said, he has stated there’s a director’s cut of Rebel Moon, which means there might’ve been even more cuts and slow-mo on the cutting room floor.
Rebel Moon attempts a sci-fi Samurai Seven and becomes a dreary mess of a bland, generic sci-fi action film. It’s hard to look at this film and not think of how much better Star Wars is with lightsabers and how much better Seven Samurai was with making you care about its characters. Snyder has stated that the R-rated extended cut will be a much different film. My hope is that his longer version features more moments of genuine character interaction, but knowing Snyder, it’ll probably have a higher volume of fights with more slow-motion shots that are tiresome and more planets revealed that are not worth caring about.