‘Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire’ review: Snyder makes soulless ‘Star Wars’

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Mark Meszoros

The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio)

(TNS)

Filmmaker Zack Snyder finally has brought to the screen an idea he’s had since his college days for a “Star Wars”-like space opera.

While “Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire” — hitting Netflix this week, after a limited theatrical run, and to be followed in April on the streaming service by “Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver” — also was influenced by “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Dirty Dozen” and more, it shares much with the 1977 film now titled “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”

There’s a malevolent galactic empire. Lightsaber-like swords. A scoundrel pilot. A polite robot. A bar scuffle. And, most importantly, a messiah figure pulled from an existence as a farmer.

But while watching this first “Rebel Moon,” you can’t help but wonder if Snyder’s specific idea was to do “Star Wars” but without any of the fun.

So, like, the “Star Wars” prequels?

No. Even less fun than THOSE.

(Shudder.)

Snyder — whose credits include 2006’s “300,” several DC Extended Universe movies, including the much-discussed “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” in 2021, and “Army of the Dead” for Netflix later that year — has crafted a grandiose but soulless tale that begins with some promise but wears you out over two-plus hours with the violent, slow-motion action sequences for which the director is so well known.

In lieu of an opening crawl, Snyder gives us narration from the great Anthony Hopkins, who — in a movie boasting character names such as Titus, Nemesis and Devra Bloodaxe — goes by … Jimmy. We learn about a king, a princess and the Motherworld, which is using its military, the Imperium, to try to squash a growing resistance, a sort of rebel alliance, if you will.

We then meet the good people of a village on the moon Veldt, who can produce a small surplus of food after harvesting grain for themselves and where a mysterious stranger named Kora (Sofia Boutella) has been taken in and helps farm the land.

An Imperium warship arrives above the planet, and the villagers are visited by a force led by Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), an officer giving off serious Nazi vibes and demanding they produce so much food for the military that they will not have enough left to feed themselves.

Although she initially plans to flee Veldt, Kora quickly runs afoul of military men about to have their way with Sam (Charlotte Maggi), a sweet young woman. Soon, she and Gunnar (Michiel Huisman, “The Flight Attendant”), who oversees the harvest, leave to recruit others willing to help them fight the Imperium.

So far, so … OK.

The first recruit is Kai (Charlie Hunnam), a pilot and self-proclaimed “opportunist,” who takes them to other parts of the galaxy, where they pick up swordswoman Nemesis (Doona Bae, “Jupiter Ascending”); revolutionary Karian Bloodaxe (“Justice League” alum Ray Fisher), brother of Devra (Cleopatra Coleman, “Dopesick”); Bloodaxe foot soldier Milius (E. Duffy); the once-regal Tarak (Staz Nair, “Supergirl”); and former military commander Titus (Djimon Hounsou, “A Quiet Place: Part II”).

The building of this fellowship is the meat of this first “Rebel Moon,” and it is almost wholly uninteresting. It is joyless — an adventure that never feels remotely adventurous, despite little action pieces such as Nemesis’ fight with Harmada (Jena Malone), a half-woman, half-spider who has kidnapped a human girl.

Reportedly, next year also will see an R-rated and extended cut of this film, said to be about an hour longer. It’s amazing that a movie that drags as much as “A Child of Fire” can also feel rushed, at least in terms of its storytelling. As presently constructed, the movie’s narrative elements feel as though they’re being held together by fraying threads.

Here’s hoping that added time will allow for at least SOME character development, as there is very little to be found in this version. There’s probably no saving the movie, but given the screen presence of Hunnam (“Triple Frontier,” “The Gentlemen”), Kai being fleshed out to the point of serving as even a poor man’s version of Han Solo would be something. (Do we even dare to dream Snyder could stitch together a bit of a love triangle for Kora, Kai and Gunnar? Probably best we don’t.)

Boutella (2017’s “The Mummy” and “Atomic Blonde”) is pretty stiff in the lead role, but it’s also surely tough for any actor to shine in a Snyder movie, where all that stylized action — presented as slowly as possible — is the top priority. The best work is turned in by Skrein (“Midway”); even if Atticus isn’t likely to prove to be a memorable villain, he is sufficiently hateable all the same, especially in his tension-filled introduction.

He works under the little-seen Regent Belisarius (Fra Fee, “Hawkeye”), who has a connection to Kora and who seems poised for a more significant part in “Scargiver.” That also would seem to be the case with Jimmy (Jimmy!), who’s mostly forgotten about after Kora’s altercation on Veldt. (If nothing else, Zack Snyder, please give us more Anthony Hopkins.)

If there’s one area where Snyder succeeds with “Rebel Moon” is world-building. Sure, this universe has some things in common with a galaxy far, far away, but there are some inventive elements, such as one character you meet in the aforementioned cantina.

Unfortunately, this thrill-starved saga has us all but dying to stay away.

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‘REBEL MOON — PART ONE: A CHILD OF FIRE’

1.5 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, sexual assault, bloody images, language, sexual material and partial nudity)

Running time: 2:13

How to watch: On Netflix Friday

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