Rebel Moon – A Child of Fire Review: Something is Missing Here…

REBEL MOON: Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble in Rebel Moon. Cr. Justin Lubin/Netflix © 2023

God bless Zack Snyder.

For almost two decades, the director has stood at the fore of Hollywood barricades, enduring the slings and arrows of critics, toxic fans, journalists, personal tragedies, corporate suits and more. Through it all, the man had continued to make movies his way without the pandering increasingly common to directors of cinematic blockbusters. In other words, he is who he is, says what he wants to say, and doesn’t care what anybody thinks.

His latest endeavor, Rebel Moon: A Child of Fire (Part One), finds Snyder relishing his love of science fiction and anime. As an original story, the pressures and expectations of executives and fans that so plagued his superhero outings do not encumber the arrival of the movie. On the other hand, some of Snyder displays some of his bad habits here, and the resulting film never quite makes the jump to lightspeed.

Rebels vs. Empire

REBEL MOON: (L-R) Sofia Boutella as Kora and Michiel Huisman as Gunnar in Rebel Moon. Cr. Chris Strother/Netflix © 2023
Image Credit: Netflix.

In a distant galaxy, the Imperium, a militaristic dictatorship, rules over countless worlds with brutality and oppression. On the tiny farming moon of Veidt, Korra (Sofia Boutella), a former Imperium soldier, now lives a quiet life planting fields with her fellow villagers. When Imperium forces led by the nefarious Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) try to take control of Veidt, Korra and her friend Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) set out on a planet-hopping mission to recruit mercenaries and anti-Imperium rebels in hopes of building a force to resist fascist aggression.

Reading that summary, anyone with even a passing knowledge of American movies probably has a looming thought on their mind: Rebel Moon sounds a lot like Star Wars. Indeed, though Snyder has worked on the Rebel Moon story on and off for almost 40 years, he did pitch the concept to Lucasfilm as a possible Star Wars spin-off movie. The project has obvious parallels to the galaxy long ago and far, far away, and much as George Lucas did in 1977, Snyder and his co-writers, Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten, construct Rebel Moon as a pastiche of beloved genre fare. The Seven Samurai, The Wizard of Oz, Space Battleship Yamato, Lord of the Rings, Alien, Blade Runner, the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Attack on Titan all get references here.

Yet if Snyder wants Rebel Moon to have the same new-yet-familiar glow as Star Wars, he forgot to add the one key ingredient: beloved characters. Though Boutella has the right amount of grit, mystique, and cunning to make a great protagonist, and though the camera loves her angular face, Korra lacks the irrepressible personality that allows her to transcend her archetypal origins. Korra’s empathy and mysterious past will keep viewers rooting for her but won’t make an audience care about her.

Overstuffed? Or Overtrimmed?

Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire. Cr. Netflix ©2023.
Image Credit: Netflix.

Other characters, including the enslaved prince Tarak (Staz Nair), the pilot Kai (Charlie Hunnam), the warriors Darrian and Devra (Ray Fisher and Cleopatra Coleman), and the evil Noble, get even less depth. They never feel like real characters, so much as placeholders in a story outline. Child of Fire lacks the kind of goofy humor or character banter that makes the characters in Star Wars or Star Trek so beloved. The biggest laugh here comes in the opening shot, as a phallic spaceship traverses a giant, pink opening in spacetime. Freud would have howled in the cinema.

Two performers defy their restrictions: Doona Bae as the swordmaster Nemesis and Djimon Hounsou as Titus, an alcoholic general. Bae and Hounsou have the kind of magnetic charisma and personalities that make their characters vivid, even though both have little screen time or dialogue. Indeed, one of Child of Fire’s best sequences introduces Nemesis as she fights a child-eating spider woman (Jenna Malone). In their brief moments together, Child of Fire sparks with the kind of character drama that the rest of the movie lacks and hints at what might be the movie’s biggest problem.

Snyder and Netflix have already announced that an R-rated, much longer version of Child of Fire will debut early in 2024 on the streaming service. Snyder, of course, loves releasing extended cuts of his films, as he did with Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and most notoriously, Justice League and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Critics maligned the latter when it arrived in theatres in one of the worst critical drubbings in recent memory. Yet, when Snyder released his “Ultimate Cut,” which reinserted 30 minutes of deleted scenes, a totally different, much more intriguing movie emerged. The longer version of Batman v. Superman has undergone something of a reevaluation since debuting its longer cut, earning accolades as a secret success.

In other words, when prepping his theatrical cut of Batman v. Superman, Snyder cut the wrong 30 minutes.

A Strangely Familiar Syndrome A Child of Fire

REBEL MOON: (Featured) Doona Bae as Nemesis in Rebel Moon. Cr. Clay Enos/Netflix © 2023
Image Credit: Netflix.

A Child of Fire seems to have the same problem. The second half of the movie jumps from one action sequence to another in rapid succession, adding characters along the way as it does. We suspect that the longer cut of the movie will reinsert considerable character drama and exploration, which can only help the story. The director should remember that no amount of slick visuals and action will engage an audience beyond the superficial if viewers don’t care about the characters.

And A Child of Fire has plenty of visual flare. The aesthetic of the movie looks like an anime come to life, and several action sequences—including one of a space ship crashing into a station—have the edge-of-your-seat kind of suspense that makes an audience hold its collective breath. Or they would, if viewers cared more about the drama. Snyder has also developed a rich backstory to his universe, and scenes of aliens suckling at human hosts, androgynous soldiers marching to battle and space griffins soaring over extraterrestrial worlds have enough imagination to enthrall an audience.

A Child of Fire is, in short, not as irredeemable as some of our fellow critics have insisted. Snyder again reminds viewers of his immense talent, even if the movie feels incomplete. Given that sequels, a TV series, and a continuation titled The Scaregiver (debuting in April) all follow the longer cut of A Child of Fire down the pipeline, it seems Snyder intends to flesh out his universe, and has much more to say about the world he has engineered.

Here’s hoping next time he can use a complete sentence. Until then, audiences wanting a space opera with more than just visual splendor will need to wait for the extended edition.

Rating: 6/10 Specs

Rebel Moon: A Child of Fire (Part One) lands on Netflix December 21. We've got the latest on movies in theaters now.

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Author: David Reddish

Title: Managing Editor

Expertise: Movies, Television, Politics, All Things Geeky


David Reddish is the award-winning writer behind the novels The Passion of Sergius & Bacchus and the Sex, Drugs & Superheroes series. He's also a noted entertainment journalist, having written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, MovieWeb, ScreenRant, Queerty, and Playboy. Reddish holds his degree in film studies from the University of Central Florida, and resides in Studio City, CA.