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Review: Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire – “A fun and expansive new sci-fi film”

Rebel Moon. (L-R) Staz Nair as Tarak, Sofia Boutella as Kora, Charlie Hunnam as Kai and Michiel Huisman as Gunnar in Rebel Moon. Cr. NETFLIX ©2023

A new space opera arrives in cinemas (and soon on Netflix) this Christmas, featuring spaceships, aliens and evil empires fighting across the galaxy. Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire showcases a cast of actors known for delivering memorable performances in small roles, delivering equally memorable performances in this film. Sofia Boutella is our protagonist Kora, a former empire soldier on the run from the Motherworld hiding out on a remote moon on the furthest reaches of the galaxy. When the colony on the moon becomes threatened, she searches across the galaxy to assemble a group of rebels to fight back. However, Rebel Moon squeezes in lots of information in a short amount of time which leaves little room for character development. Director, Zack Snyder has promised to release an extended version of the film and a sequel is scheduled for release early next year, which should expand on them. For now, this cut of Rebel Moon is a fun and expansive new sci-fi film that feels optimistic in its future.

Kora is a complex character, on one hand, she’s ready to drop everyone and keep herself safe by running away, but on the other, she’s incredibly brave and heroic. Aware of the brutality of the empire known as the Motherworld, she decides to protect the peaceful farmers she’s been hiding with. She begins her journey with the villager Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) across the stars.

At the premiere, Zack Snyder said he had been working on Rebel Moon for years and was open about Star Wars being a key influence, to the point that the whole film was nearly retooled to be a Star Wars film, before that plan fell away. While there are key references to Star Wars and other sci-fi films (and even Gladiator) it is Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and by extension The Magnificent Seven which really informs the film. Kora picks up lovable rogues Kai (Charlie Hunnam), Nemesis (Bae Doona) and General Titus (Djimon Hounsou) to name a few. Each displaying their unique skill before joining her cause.

It’s a simple format, but the film really shines when it does something new and unexpected. It will come as no surprise to fans of Zack Snyder that the fight scenes are vibrant and features less slow-motion than expected from him. Although the dialogue can be ropey at times the cast is able to compensate. What did surprise me is an underlying theme about sex and assault. The Motherworld ships are shaped like phallic objects flying through vulva-shaped portals, while every now and again there are suggestions of sex and consent. If there is a metaphor it is muddled, undefined and it may be a case of window-dressing rather than any underlying message or parable; as the kids sometimes say – it’s just not that deep bro.

The film is short (2 hours and 14 minutes) and feels desperate for more room to expand its story. Sofia Boutella has to narrate and rush through the lore before the film can properly get going. By the time you get through the first half of the film you’re finally left to enjoy it for what it is: cowboys in space. The rebels soon attract the attention of the Motherworld and are met with fury from Admiral Noble (Ed Skrein) who serves under the Regent Balisarius (Fra Fee). Ed Skrein is deliciously evil, taking pride in his role as bully and enforcer over the farmers and Kora when he finally confronts her. Another stand-out is Jimmy the robot, voiced by Anthony Hopkins who promises to deliver more in the sequel.

While Rebel Moon may draw comparisons to Star Wars, it also offers its own unique perspective and avoids the baggage associated with the franchise. Gunnar’s clueless farm boy would be Luke Skywalker, but he’s not the main character here. Same with Kora, you could compare her to Rey, but Kora feels more real and reassuring. What Rebel Moon has is a fresh take, but most importantly it made me care about this world and where it goes from here. Best seen in the cinema, away from your phone.

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