Movie review: 'Rebel Moon' style distinguishes Zack Synder epic

Kora (Sofia Boutella) shoots in slow motion. Photo courtesy of Netflix
1 of 5 | Kora (Sofia Boutella) shoots in slow motion. Photo courtesy of Netflix

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Rebel Moon-Part One: A Child of Fire, in theaters Friday and on Netflix on Thursday, is an entertaining filtering of science fiction and general storytelling tropes through the lens of creator/director Zack Snyder.

Part One gathers a team of heroes for a new space saga.


Kora (Sofia Boutella) is living on a peaceful farming planet. The tyrannical Motherworlds send Admiral Noble (Ed Skrein) to compel the farmers to share their grain with his army.

Naive Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) thinks he can negotiate with Noble, but only makes it worse when he demands the bulk of their harvest and leaves an occupying force on the ground. Kora is going to flee, but steps in when the soldiers try to rape a young girl.

With the Motherworlds inevitably coming back to retaliate, Kora and Gunnar set out to build a rebellion. They travel from planet to planet amassing their squad.


Rebel Moon is an original in that there was no prior material it adapts, but it didn't invent modest people rising up against oppressors, let alone an oppressive space empire. Snyder did invent the specific mythology and characters of this world and co-wrote the script with Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten.

But, Rebel Moon doesn't try to avoid comparisons to Star Wars. In fact, it's likely Snyder's pitch to Netflix could have been "This is our Star Wars."

In Star Wars, the Rebel Alliance already existed and Luke Skywalker wanted to join it. Rebel Moon-Part One is entirely about recruiting the leaders who can command non-soldiers against an army.

It seems that Kora and Gunnar find each hero already in the middle of their own epic story. It expands the scope of the film to hint at stories that were in progress before the protagonists got there, but converge when the characters join the rebellion.

These include rogue loner Kai (Charlie Hunnam), slave Tarak (Staz Nair), swordswoman Nemesis (Doona Bae), disgraced General Titus (Djimon Hounsou), and siblings Darrian (Ray Fisher) and Devra Bloodaxe (Cleopatra Coleman) who already are defending their planet from the Motherworlds.

Each of those planets creates a diverse galaxy far, far away. They meet Kai in what is essentially a western saloon filled with aliens. Yes, the Star Wars cantina also was a space-age saloon, but this one is really like a western with swinging wooden doors.


Westerns and science fiction are often entwined. Star Trek was considered a western in space and the short-lived Firefly also called itself a western, so a literal sandy frontier street fits in well.

Nemesis lives on a mining planet that's more industrial, full of machinery. Star Wars worlds tend to focus on one simple element - for example, all desert, or all ice or all volcano. These worlds feel like there are more levels and grades to their topography.

In these outlaw worlds, random aliens can be just as threatening as the Motherworlds army. Kora fights them all in slow motion, which is Snyder's hallmark. Snyder cuts to a wide shot when Kora takes shots at the head, but she is blowing people's heads off.

Scenes that look more obviously filmed in front of a screen can be excused because most science-fiction has to be filmed against artificial backgrounds. But also, Snyder pioneered making an entire movie on green screen with 300, so if anyone is allowed to use it, he is.

Early scenes do provide more detail on how oppression works. Noble isn't just the generic villain. He demonstrates how malicious leaders can trick the innocent into cooperating.

Even after seeing Noble's true colors, many in the farming colony remain naive and think they can prove their worth and ensure survival.


But It takes the occupying army just one night to commit atrocities.

Skrein captures that smarmy nature of a power-tripping authority figure who makes him great at evil monologues. He's so deserving of a slap in the face that his confrontation with Kora can't come soon enough.

Since Part One is right in the title, it's clear the Motherworlds won't be defeated just yet. The first film reaches a satisfying climax, by which point it has introduced a team of rebels who will be worth following to the far reaches of space.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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