Mladen and Del review ‘Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

Starring Sofia Boutella as Kora, Michiel Huisman as Gunnar, Bae Doona as Nemesis, Charlie Hunnam as Kai, Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble and others. Directed by Zack Snyder. Two hours, 13 minutes. Rated PG-13. Streaming on Netflix.

Plot summary: A quiet agrarian village on a fertile moon in a galaxy far, far away is forced to provide a Motherworld dreadnaught grain that it can’t spare. One of the villagers, the first to recognize the threat and the only one with balls though a female, scours the system for a motley crew of warriors who’ll fight the dreadnaught and its vicious commander to protect the hamlet. Part One collects the heroes who’ll resist the evil admiral and his tyrant boss.

Are there spoilers in this review: Not really.

Mladen’s take

What can I say about “Rebel Moon” other than it’s an OK film. I didn’t even bother watching it using my home theater.

I thought “Rebel Moon” was rated R. It wasn’t, so the violence is tame, albeit flashy, and there’s almost no cussing. No nudity, either. Shit, the film lacks grit.

The characters aren’t all that charismatic, either. Our heroine is anguished because of who she was and what she did way back when. Her train of misfits are characters we’ve all seen in the past, including the prototypical Asian as ninja.

In short, “Rebel Moon” speeds through character development so that all we’re left with are outlines of personas. There’s the displaced prince, a spiritually wounded mother, a drunken former general, and an insurrectionist who had gone soft returning to the fight against un‑motherly Motherworld.

I’m also tired of hearing the same old voices as droids. In this case, it’s Anthony Hopkins as the latent military bot J-whatever. I listen to the bot talk and all I’m thinking is that’s the king of Asgard.

Because Del is an every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining kinda guy, I’ll honor his frail tendency to try to balance good and bad by noting a couple of the film’s bright spots.

“Rebel Moon” production value is top notch. The film offers very good world building. The CGI is clean, as clean as the meld of real and fake in last year’s “The Creator.” The real people in the movie look like they are a part of the planet, moon, spaceship, city, or field they find themselves in. The creatures depicted in the movie are stylish and one smacks of Greek mythology. The other prominent critter is, oh, “Lord of the Rings-y” and good enough.

I concede that there was a scene or two that absorbed me. I was eager to see how they’d end. Unfortunately, the movie would then return to its mostly uninteresting plot. Dang, sorry about that Del. I inserted a bit of negativity into my silver lining section.

“Rebel Moon” just isn’t that good. And, it just isn’t that bad.

You want to see a very good space opera? Give Star Wars “Rogue One” a spin. Clearly, it was the inspiration, if not outright template, for “Rebel Moon.” Also better alternatives to “Rebel Moon” are “Serenity,” the 2009 “Star Trek” movie, and the new “Dune.”  

Will I see “Rebel Moon: Part Two – The Scargiver?” Sure. Do I care that I must wait until the movie’s April 2024 release? Not one bit. That fact, all by itself, demonstrates my enthusiasm for the “Rebel Moon” storyline.    

Del’s take

Mladen, there’s no need to be positive on my behalf. “Rebel Moon” was awful. And to think: They spent $166 million making that crap? One hundred and sixty-six million would just about cover my homeowner’s insurance and property taxes here in the “free state of Florida.”

Give me a break.

“Rebel Moon” is Star Wars Lite, if such a thing is possible. When I saw director Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” I told myself, “Now here’s a guy who knows how to make a movie.” Unfortunately, Snyder is a guy who knows how to make one movie. “Rebel Moon” looks just like “Sucker Punch,” “300” and “Watchmen,” and despite the lofty ambitions, it’s surprisingly bereft of depth.

Let’s not even talk about things like tropes or archetypes – “Rebel Moon” is a bad copy of a bad copy, like that photocopy of the mysterious night shift worker’s ass that turned up on the Xerox machine one morning and now everybody’s passing it around the office.

Dialogue is, well, corny. And not just corny corny, but fanboy at the science fiction convention Dungeons & Dragons icebreaker corny. Characterization is practically non-existent – you’ve seen these people in dozens of movies over the years, starting with Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai,” the same place Snyder got the plot. It would have been hilarious if he’d ripped off J.J. Abrams. Alas, the universe doesn’t have that ironic a sense of humor. FX are not great, either. I should think $166 million would buy you a more realistic-looking spaceship or future city.

It’s all a gussied-up, overhyped pile of same-old, same-old, and I’ll be honest – it actually offends me. The science fiction genre – at least the printed-on-paper part of the genre – has thousands of really terrific stories waiting to be told. Why waste $166 million on this retread?

Part 2 is coming and I could care less. I know how it’s going to end. I’ve already seen it. I don’t need to waste my time watching part 2 of a movie that scored 23 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Mladen’s grade: C (C- if, for a moment, the sci-fi tropes irritate me)

Del’s grade: D

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Disney Studios.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Harrison Ford. Directed by J.J. Abrams. 135 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

I’ve told this story before but I’ll tell it again.

My friend Sandy was feeling blue. Her husband was TDY in Korea and her teenaged kids were doing their thing. One day she decided to remedy her malaise by throwing a cookout for the kids. She took a pound of ground beef and shaped it into several thick patties. She toasted hamburger buns on the grill as the burgers sizzled. She gathered all the trimmings and condiments – tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, mustard, mayo, and ketchup.

When the kids looked at those fat, juicy, steaming burgers, they turned up their noses and sniffed, “We wanted REAL hamburgers, like McDonalds.”

Moviegoers have watched the cinematic equivalent of fast food for so long they have no idea what the real thing looks like. To them, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an actual movie, and a good movie at that. But those of us who know what a real hamburger looks and tastes like know this latest installment of the Star Wars canon is little more than a dime-sized beef-like patty sandwiched between two white-bread buns topped with a pickle and a miserly squirt of watered down mustard and ketchup.

And it’s not even CREATIVE fast food. Instead, it’s a brazen, in-your-face, do-something-about-it rip-off of the first movie. Call it “The Force Awakens a New Hope” because that’s precisely what it is … a splashy, high-resolution rehash.

Here’s the plot: A droid is carrying a map that will help the rebellion find Luke Skywalker, who holds the key to … something. I think it was the revival of the Jedi, but I’m not sure. I wish it were lower popcorn prices.

Special effects are light years superior to the first movie and John Boyega does a good job as Finn. Even Harrison Ford seems to enjoy his outing as Han Solo.

But some of the performances are terrible. Domhall Gleeson’s portrayal of General Hux is comically overwrought, and Carrie Fisher reads her lines as if she were sucking to keep dentures in her mouth. Through no fault of Adam Driver, the Kylo Ren character fails to equal the ominous and imposing Darth Vader; instead, he’s a damaged little boy with daddy issues.

The movie itself seems to lurch from one adventure to the next without much in the way of connective tissue, making it one vast, pointless coincidence.

I went into “The Force Awakens” with the expectation I would see a competent if not creative re-establishment of the Star Wars franchise, much like my experience last summer with “Jurassic World.” I came out offended that J.J. Abrams has no more respect for the moviegoer than to plagiarize “A New Hope.”

The fact that this movie will become the biggest grossing film of all time leads me to believe I am forever condemned to watching the cinematic equivalent of fast food burgers. Oh well, at least it isn’t Soylent Green. Or is it?

By all means, go see “The Force Awakens a New Hope” in a movie theater, because that is where all movies should be seen. Skip the popcorn; you’ll want fries with that.

And a year from now, don’t buy the DVD. You already own it.

Mladen’s take

I want my money back. The money I paid for my “Stars Wars: The Force Awakens” ticket and the money I paid for Del’s “The Force Awakens” movie ticket.

And, I want the money back for all my friends – and the rest of the globe – who have yet to realize that the film is 1) mediocre at best and 2) saved barely by Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey with assistance from John Boyega as Finn.

I’m also filing a claim with the Better Business Bureau against Disney for false advertising. “The Force Awakens” is not a continuation of the Star Wars saga. It is a remake of the first Star Wars movie released some four decades ago.

The more I think about the movie, the more I become frustrated.

TFA offer nothing compellingly original. A Death Planet, rather than a Death Star. Really, director JJ Abrams?

TFA is laced with weakling bad guys and improbable coincidences that keep the movie moving sideways. As Del noted during our conversation amid a round of disc golf, the movie has no plot, so it’s impossible for it to move forward. It’s worse than the least good of the three original films, “Return of the Jedi,” but better than the prequels. Of course, Jackass 4 is better than Sith tales I, II, and III.

Because I felt little for the characters, barring Rey, I paid attention to what TFA did have to offer, a solid soundtrack and terrific sound effects.

TFA is a distraction. By playing it safe and formulaic to bamboozle all the poor Star Wars fans out there hoping for something to break the disappointment of the franchise’s three most recent efforts, Disney committed a different error. The one called profit motive.

Now I understand the reason for Disney’s hyper hyperbolic marketing campaign, particular using dumbass social media. The Mickey Mouse company had to earn more box office than a heavily marketed, equally unsatisfying blockbuster of six years ago, “Avatar.” Moviegoers were used then and moviegoers have been used today. The lesson that was reinforced by the Star Wars juggernaut? Sell a movie hard enough, build expectations that touch Jakku in a galaxy far, far away, and no one will recognize the difference between a provocative, high-quality, and stimulating experience and cookiecutter entertainment packed with razzle dazzle empty calories.

I hope that this movie doesn’t sink Ridley’s and Boyega’s careers. If they’re forever typecast as Rey- and Finn-like characters, their solid acting skills will never see the light of a good film.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.