Director: Zack Snyder Screenwriter: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Shay Hatten Cast: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Doona Bae, Ray Fisher, Staz Nair, Fra Fee, Elise Duffy, Anthony Hopkins Distributor: Netflix Running Time: 122 min. MPAA: PG-13

The second part to Rebel Moon, Zack Snyder’s all-style-no-substance Seven Samurai in space, is mostly action. Although Part One served up much of that, it was also drowned in a cascading mountain of uninteresting exposition and characters more notable for their weapons than any personality. Part Two could be the action-packed finale promised with the premise, where the frenetic violence might be enough to excuse the lesser elements. It does not, as Part Two showcases just as many flaws.

Despite the comparatively shorter running time, The Scargiver also spins its wheels with poor character development. Prior to the big battle where the assembled mercenaries defend a village from space Nazis, they all share their backstories amid a meal. This is not performed in an organic way, but in the same way that AA allows its members to share their plight. Someone shares a story of the evil space Nazis invading their homeworld. When they’re done, someone else relays their tragic tale of betraying a princess. Nobody reacts all that much to this info beyond quiet stoicism. It’s an attempt to make them look cool and determined that ultimately comes off as simplistic and boring.

That one scene damages the rest of the movie considering what it sets up. The grand battle for the village is loud, explosive, and involves all manner of weapons from laser guns to lightsabers to axes. But what’s the point to any of it? Seven Samurai, the obvious inspiration for this film, took its time to make sure you care about the characters and that the villagers resonated with their protectors. It also didn’t need two movies and did so with less running time. I can easily identify with the defensive humor of Kikuchiyo or the spirited Heihachi in the face of danger.

But Rebel Moon? Everybody is just a stoic, too-cool-to-emote warrior without much personality. Kora (Sofia Boutella) does little more than mildly regret leading a charge into war, but has her doubts quickly squashed by the mildly-more aggressive Gunnar (Michiel Huisman). Titus (Djimon Hounsou) is present to give bog-standard battle speeches to the farmers of the village that don’t need much coaxing to take up arms. The rest of the characters all feel like they’re present for action without the weight of caring whether or not they survive. This is evident with the character of Nemesis (Doona Bae), who has so few lines and no defined personality that the Wikipedia page simply describes her as “a cyborg swordmaster.” That she is, as she wields two lightsaber blades with less charm than a droid from Star Wars. And then there’s the space Nazi villain of Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), still coming off like the default of putting the words “space Nazi” into an AI generation.

Even when watching the film explicitly for the action, these sequences also showcase the flaws of Snyder’s direction. Moments of tragedy stumble into comedy with how Snyder frames this tale. Consider the flashback to a royal assassination. As if the editing weren’t awkward enough, the soundtrack of juxtaposed orchestra music is presented with the musicians IN THE SAME ROOM where assassination takes place. The only reason I can fathom why this staging was favored is the same reason for anything else in this film: It looked cool. The key word being “looked” because it definitely doesn’t feel cool.

Rebel Moon has all the finesse and appeal of a Star Wars knock-off that never understood what made those movies work. Star Wars has iconography, sure, but all of that was possible by making the hero’s journey exciting and the characters unique enough to care that they survive this intergalactic war. Rebel Moon plays the same game of Star Wars by drawing from past Japanese samurai films and sci-fi adventures, but in the most superficial way. While Star Wars tried to frame a relatable tale of rebellion akin to the Vietnam War with stellar sci-fi visuals, Rebel Moon answers the less interesting question of “What if Luke Skywalker emoted less and had two lightsabers?”

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