Movie Review – Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver

Principal Cast : Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Doona Bae, Ray Fisher, Staz Nair, Fra Fee, Elise Duffy, Anthony Hopkins, Alfonso Herrera, Stuart Martin, Cary Elwes, Rhian Rees, Charlotte Maggi.
Synopsis: Kora and the surviving warriors prepare to fight and defend their new homeworld Veldt against the Motherworld.


Resting in the shallow water of his opening salvo, director Zack Snyder had a mountain to climb to resurrect the discombobulating clumsiness inherent to his Star Wars-clone franchise-kicker. Rebel Moon – Part 1: A Child Of Fire was a mediocre mess of a film, beset with editorial largesse, extravagance lacking potency, and an apparent inability to give the film any real sense of purpose; the main character, Kora (a ferocious and commendable Sofia Boutella) is a protagonist for whom we care very little, which makes Part 2: The Scargiver film feel even more flavourless when you consider that almost no work is put into her character development in follow-up. The film’s plot is as generic as you can get – despite Snyder’s behind-the-scenes claims of originality – and at no point in this shambolic opus of explosions and constant sl0-mo does anyone ever really get to the point.

Last we saw, former Imperium soldier Kora and her hastily assembled samurai sorry, I mean warriors have landed on Veldt, a farming planet under threat from Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), a naval admiral and scourge of the galaxy last thought dead at the end of the first film. Together with Titus (Djimon Hounsou), a former legendary Imperium General, Nemesis (Doona Bae), a laser-sword wielding cyborg (Doona Bae), a robot names James (voiced by Anthony Hopkins) and an upstanding local villager, Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), Kora must take the fight to the Imperium if she has any hope of a normal life.

Blatantly copying Kurosawa’s 1954 epic Seven Samurai, The Scargiver is a formulaic and derivative sci-fi opus of limited range and depth, a tepid actioner writ large with spiffy visual effects and a solid ensemble cast, but a complete lack of soul. Yes, Zack Snyder has once again crafted a meandering, tiresome, paper-thin plot and inane characters to populate his “world building” franchise, none of which offer any enthusiasm for the audience at all, and in effect render the whole enterprise neutered before it even really begins. Snyder can sure develop cool looking characters, but he’s absolutely buggered trying to generate any connection with the viewer if he continues to present bland, uninteresting storytelling like this. All the great visuals in the world can’t help you if we, the viewer, don’t give a shit about the people on the screen. And with this duo of films seemingly refusing to offer a reason to give a shit about the people on the screen, Rebel Moon’s Netflix debut is a resounding failure. I should note that this failure isn’t the fault of the actors, all of whom are excellent, or the below-the-line production folks who have crafted an epic, fully realised and lived-in world in which to set Rebel Moon’s ponderous machinations, but firmly and completely at the feet of the writers (Snyder shares a co-scripting credit with Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten) and his own direction; the film’s uncomfortable familiarity to other franchises (Star Wars, primarily, was the genesis for the film’s existence, and as I mentioned in my Part 1 review I suspect George Lucas could sue for copyright infringement) leaves a bitter, sour taste in one’s mouth, and the overall tone of Rebel Moon is one of distinct overcompensation.

I think the key issue with Rebel Moon’s underpinnings is that Snyder doesn’t take it seriously enough, or make it fun enough, to find a specific aesthetic to please the audience. He’s trying to have a fantasmagorical adventure romp but lacks the ability to make things either fun, or a romp, resorting to cliches and generic plot beats to do the heavy lifting. Allusions to earthly World Wars abound in the Imperium’s militaristic sides, with Ed Skrein dressed like a Kaiser officer for most of this one, while there is very much a Star Trek: Insurrection flavour to the scenes on Veldt when the conflict of the film kicks into gear. There’s almost no  humour to be found in The Scargiver, no release of tension or angst for the viewer, and the performances range from grounded, gritty earthiness (Boutella) to completely over-the-top Film Villain archetype (Skrein) to the point it feels like Snyder smashed three of four of his favourite tropes together and decided to call it a day. He wants his villains to be boo-hiss generic and arch, but he also wants to give his heroes a realism the film cannot sustain, leading to a not inconsequential inability to deliver excitement within the framework as we’re trying to figure out just how to take this movie. There’s Snyder’s oft-used (over-used) conceit of slo-mo to deliver emotional beats, or punctuate the action with cool photography, but it’s utterly vacant any sense of impact due largely to this combative tone he takes with what transpires. You can’t mix Star Wars with Game of Thrones: I suspect these are the two analogous pop-culture references he was aiming for. You can’t make these two different types of fiction collide and not have a problematic tone.

As with the previous film, there’s no shortage of creativity on display here, from the widescreen cinematography of Snyder’s astute eye for framing to the development of both Imperium tech, Veldt rusticism and rurality, and the wider cosmic tableau upon which this all rests; costume designers, set designers, weapons and technical designers should all take a bow because at least Rebel Moon looks like it cost a billion dollars, even if it’s got a three-buck screenplay. The VFX, and they are plentiful, always look grounded in realism, and aside from the enormous battles and explosions taking up three quarters of this film’s runtime leaving you with a migraine onset afterwards one can’t really fault the people behind the scenes. Practical effects works well enough too, on the various alien designs and massive sets built for the project, very much a “let’s build Hobbiton” mandate from Snyder to root his Skywalker Ranch finale in the dirt rather than the vacuum of space. Tom Holkenborg delivers another metallic and electronic score accompaniment, and Dody Dorn’s editing is once again effortful in its ability to stretch out sequences that should take two or three minutes into a full half-hour. Pacing is a big problem for both instalments of Rebel Moon and the continuous reliance on slo-mo to heighten the emotion of a given scene actually achieves the opposite – it dilutes the effects significantly. In the end, The Scargiver is a plodding chore of a battle film lacking heft or weight to the emotional core, and no amount of snazzy jump-cuts or rack-zoon short-focus crispness can salvage it.

According to Snyder, he has a harder-edged R-rated “director’s cut” version of both Rebel Moon films in the pipeline, utilising different takes and dialogue to give this project a “sexier, more violent” potency. Now, I’m not averse to boobs and blood in a Zack Snyder film (300 remains his best film on an artistic level for this very reason) but this admission, that these watered-down versions on Netflix aren’t the ones he thought we’d all like, makes me hate this half-assed filmmaking style even more. If all we had of Rebel Moon was these two decidedly asinine sci-fi movies we could all move on, but coming down the tube will be a complete repurposing of this same story just with more limbs being lopped and more bum-titty action (apparently), and I’m not sure what creative itch a dual-release scratches for viewers. If Boutella gets her tits out or Ed Skrein goes into full John Wick mode and properly mows people down with his laser sword it might make the time pass a bit quicker on a rewatch, but the bones of Rebel Moon, the genetic structure with which Snyder hopes to start a full-blown franchise, doesn’t seem capable of withstanding multiple variants or even multiple viewings. I know I won’t be in any hurry to revisit either of the two PG films we have for this review.

Rebel Moon. Cr. Netflix ©2023

The Scargiver is a bombastic waste of everyone’s time. It’s an unforgivable mess of a movie, made by a filmmaker incapable of injecting emotional resonance into his projects of late, and a crucial misstep for his time with Netflix. Action and violence for its own sake only get you (and us) so far, you really have to work hard to make the viewer care about the characters you’re showing us. Rebel Moon doesn’t do that, missing the mark by a wide margin. How about… instead of watching Rebel Moon, you go watch Seven Samurai instead. That would be far more compelling and you’d have a much better time at the movies. Rebel Moon is a complete bust.

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