Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon is unoriginal sci-fi, but the real problem? It’s not very good

Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire is the first instalment of Zack Snyder’s sci-fi spin on Seven Samurai, and eyed as a franchise-starter. But, as Travis Johnson writes, it’s hard to see anything here to entice you back for more.

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is such a robust and well-worn narrative model that it’s proved nigh-impossible to stuff up, serving as the inspiration for everything from The Magnificent Seven to Battle Beyond the Stars to A Bug’s Life. Unfortunately, visionary director Zack Snyder doesn’t know the meaning of the word “impossible”.

The DCEU architect’s long-awaited Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire takes about half of Kurosawa’s plot (the rest presumably being used in Part Two — The Scargiver), strips it of joy, pathos and meaning, dusts it with elements lifted from a good dozen other genre properties, and calls it good. There’s a bit of Star Wars (the property briefly being pitched as a Star Wars property a few years back), a bit of Warhammer 40,000, a touch of Firefly, and a lot of ponderous attempts to convince the viewer this this is all very important, serious stuff.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cribbing from other sources—we all love Tarantino ’round these parts—or taking pulpy genre stuff seriously, but in the first case you need to do it in an interesting, novel way, and in the latter, you need to be actually saying something worth taking seriously, or at least give us characters to care about.

It’s hard to care about Sofia Boutella’s enigmatic former soldier Kora as she hares off to recruit a ragtag band of heroes to protect her adopted home, the agricultural moon Veldt, from the predations of galaxy-spanning dictatorship The Motherworld, that she used to serve. Dancer Boutella is a fantastic action star in the right hands, but here plays Kora with one emotional note, and reams of ploddingly delivered backstory fail to add depth to either the character or story universe.

The rest of the ensemble fare little better. Charlie Hunnam’s Kai is simply Han Solo saddled with Brad Pitt’s accent from The Devil’s Own, Staz Nair’s gryphon-riding Tarak is The Beastmaster as played by Fabio, and Djimon Hounsou appears to be playing his Gladiator character again. Bae Doona is striking as sword-master Nemesis, but has little chance to do much except pose, and sibling insurrectionists Darrian (Ray Fisher) and Devra (Cleopatra Coleman) Bloodaxe hint at interesting dynamics that are never explored. Nobody is helped by dialogue that feels like badly scripted exposition delivered in an unskippable video game cut scene—poor Corey Stoll as a village elder probably gets the worst of this.

But it is very pretty, with Snyder handling his own camera once more and some impressive production design and CGI vistas on hand to please the eyeballs. There’s the odd bit of weirdness that hints at a cheekily perverse sense of humour, such as an alien symbiote puppeteering its human host, or Ed Skrein’s razor-cheekboned fascist fop baddie having a predilection for tentacle play. Skrein, a man purpose built to play hissable villains, is always fun in this kind of role, but cannot escape the sense that he’s only here to give our heroes someone to pummel until the real story shows up in Part Two.

And look, there’s always the outside chance that Part Two will contextualise and redeem Part One when it hits. Or perhaps the already-announced blood ‘n’ guts cut will. Who can say? But your interest in such things is predicated on finding anything here, in this first instalment of the nascent Rebel Moon franchise, to entice you back for more, and I can’t imagine what that might be.