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Bad Moon Uprising

Clay Enos/Netflix

Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire (2023)

Is there anything more terrifying in a film’s title than the words “Part One?” Here it’s a serious threat. “A Child of Fire” is so bad it’s created a new level of awfulness. Thanks to some excellent C.G.I. it’s gorgeous to look at, but so empty of interest that the false beauty is meaningless. In the opening-night public screening this critic attended the only time the audience reacted to anything – anything – was Charlie Hunnam’s appalling Northern Irish accent. It is difficult to understand how a movie so carefully and expertly made could be so devoid of feeling. It’s like 134 minutes of trying to touch a fish by putting your hand to the aquarium glass, only not nearly as much fun.

At least if the fish are something new to look at, you can forgive the unbreachable void, but the further trouble with “A Child of Fire” is there is literally not one new thing in it. Kora (Sofia Boutella, and more on whom later) is introduced plowing a field and flirting with a “simple farmer” named Gunnar (Michiel Huisman). An evil army shows up, headed by Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein, who hopefully in his personal life loves fluffy sweaters and is kind to animals), who immediately kills the village leader (Corey Stoll, under an embarrassing beard) with his big punishment stick and threatens everyone with dastardly consequences in around three months’ time if a big grain harvest isn’t ready. The villagers decide their hard work will prove their value. Kora, who’s not lived there very long, disagrees and tries to sneak away, but a charming village girl (Charlotte Maggi) is threatened with rape by a bunch of soldiers with very strong South African and New Zealand accents, so Kora slaughters them all in slow motion and the villagers suddenly agree they have to fight.

That means Kora and Gunnar have to get the band of samurai, or something, together, and suddenly we’re on a tour of sci-fi planets in bounty hunter Kai’s (Mr. Hunnam) ship. On the “How to Train Your Dragon”/“Avatar” planet they find Tarak (Staz Nair, whose abs are the most interesting thing on screen in this entire thing). On the Hong Kong action planet they find Nemesis (Doona Bae) – although in a modernist twist to the Asian-lady-assassin-chasing-revenge-for-her-murdered-family trope, she can talk. On the “Gladiator” planet they find Djimon Hounsou under a beard so magnificent it indicates he’s been hanging out there ever since Russell Crowe broke up with him; and on the “Braveheart”/Squidward planet they find Dorrian Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), who is remarkably eager to ditch the rebellion he’s been leading for a suicide mission.

It is so silly, but the tone is so portentous and the fights so dragged out through the slow-motion stylings that you can’t even laugh. It’s like being hugged to death by a suicidal clown. And this is without getting into the incredibly serious voiceover by Anthony Hopkins, which talks a lot about the dominion of the motherworld and the unbroken bloodline of the slain kings as the opening shot shows a penis-shaped spaceship flying out of a vulva-shaped breach in the atmosphere; and it’s not even funny.

Somehow director Zack Snyder has managed to take the wrong lessons from every single one of his previous movies and make something so bad it boggles the mind. This is especially infuriating because it’s past time for Ms. Boutella to have a juicy lead role. She combines the alien intrigue of Tilda Swinton with the sleek physicality of Zoe Saldana and somehow absolutely no one in Hollywood knows what to do with her. Mr. Snyder shaved the side of her head and dressed her up in proto-fascist costumes for a whole bunch of meaningful flashbacks, but all that’s going to achieve for her is some funny feelings belonging to the men in the “Release the Snyder Cut” hats in the audience. There is just nothing here. The fact that “Rebel Moon” was rejected from the “Star Wars” universe speaks very highly of them, but to see a film that makes you long for the unforgiven atrocity that is “The Rise of Skywalker” is so bleak it’s hard to fathom. How did American blockbusters get so desperate?


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