Rebel Moon Part One review: "Risks being subsumed by its own self-importance, but delivers bombastic mayhem"

Rebel Moon
(Image: © Netflix)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Snyder’s passion project risks becoming subsumed by its own self-importance, but delivers bombastic mayhem and grandiose visuals by the bucket-load.

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Zack Snyder never does anything by halves. But even by his standards, the first part of his long-gestating space saga is a thunderous, portentous, gargantuan slab of mythological sci-fi fantasy. 

Initially conceived as a Star Wars spin-off, this epic re-do of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai takes a standard 'getting the band together' scenario and elevates it to extravagantly operatic heights, albeit at the cost of any leavening impishness or drollery.

A sonorous voiceover from Anthony Hopkins – later revealed to be the voice of an aging robot – establishes the universe where Rebel Moon unfolds: a once-benign autocracy now plunged into discord by the slaying of a benevolent king. 

Desperate to assert their authority, the forces of the Motherworld touch down on the placid satellite Veldt and demand its citizenry of peace-loving farmers surrender their entire harvest. But what the nasty Admiral Noble (Ed Skrein) doesn’t know is that one of his own, runaway warrior Kora (Sofia Boutella), has made Veldt her home and is not about to let her new pals get picked on.

With farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) in tow, Kora sets off across the galaxy to find a posse of freelance fighters who’ll repel Noble’s next visit: a rag-tag team of mercenaries that each gets introduced with an elaborate action set-piece. The pick of these is the fiery duel swordswoman Nemesis (Doona Bae) has with child-snatching spider-lady Harmada (Jena Malone) on the mining planet Daagus, a satisfying mini-movie in its own eerie right. 

Elsewhere, however, things tend towards the goofy. A sequence in which hunky ironmonger Tarak (Staz Nair) wins his freedom by taming a griffin recalls nothing so much as Harry’s adventures with Buckbeak in Prisoner of Azkaban.

It all ends with a dramatic reversal straight out of the Empire Strikes Back playbook that brings things to an explosive if inconclusive conclusion – the inevitable price of A Child of Fire being a scene-setting prelude for a second installment (Part Two: The Scargiver) that will doubtless tie up the various loose threads left frustratingly dangling here. 

However, fans of Snyder’s heightened brand of stern, muscular filmmaking won’t be left wanting. And while the performances rarely extend beyond two-dimensional archetype, there’s still fun to be had with Charlie Hunnam’s insouciant turn as a wily pilot of the Han Solo school. 

Rebel Moon Part One - A Child of Fire is in selected US and UK cinemas on December 15 before coming to Netflix on December 22. 

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.