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REVIEW: ‘Rebel Moon: Part One’ would’ve made a great video game

Ryan Oquiza

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REVIEW: ‘Rebel Moon: Part One’ would’ve made a great video game
Zack Snyder’s ambitious sci-fi endeavor is more video game than film, which is a good thing for some, but might be boring for others

This review contains minor spoilers.

Netflix’s new and flashy sci-fi epic, spearheaded by the internet’s favorite misunderstood (or, in many cases, controversial) visionary director, Zack Snyder, is really not that bad. Taking on the additional role of director of photography, Snyder unleashes his penchant for capturing his favored subjects — strong men and women exuding mythical strength and unwavering physical prowess — all of them filling the frames with his rapturous visual signature. 

There are some really, and I mean really, intense slow motion scenes in this film — and I kind of dig them. This is Snyder unimpeached and unshackled, and this is probably a good thing. These are the auteur gambles that companies like Netflix should take along with funding the David Finchers and Bradley Coopers of the world. And they’re putting a lot of investment into this project, especially considering that the second part will release next year in April, essentially giving Snyder the time and space for his vision.

Snyder’s deep appreciation for the classics that shaped his filmmaking sensibilities shows here. Rebel Moon draws inspiration from the timeless story of a small village confronting a powerful group of adversaries prevalent in Seven Samurai, as well as the antique yet futuristic wilderness found in the richly detailed and lived-in environments of Star Wars

Snyder stacks these cinematic influences on top of each other and creates something that can become excessively familiar, yet in the instances where the film differs from what came before, it can become a tad bit thrilling. Take for example the barrage of action scenes with hard-hitting sound design and feverishly choreographed ballets that are heart-pumping to watch; it’s a style that I doubt many filmmakers can replicate. 

But what I do find easily replicable is the film’s story structure, dialogue, and character archetypes. Excluding a somewhat interesting twist near the end of the film, there really is nothing new to offer that hasn’t already been seen before but in a different skin. What I argue Snyder contributes to this genre is birthing a piece of media that actually acts more like a video game than film, and I honestly think that could be a good thing for some, and undoubtedly boring for others. Surprisingly, I’m in the former camp.

Unlike some video game adaptations that try their hardest to replicate the interactive gameplay feel of their originals, Rebel Moon: Part One manages to do this effortlessly. Maybe it’s the slow motion, the obviously demarcated scenes of dialogue that become trojan horses for backstory, or the pitch perfect renderings of nameless thugs who you can beat with one fell swoop.

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It’s a two-hour cutscene full of mesmerizing gameplay first and storytelling second. As a film, Rebel Moon is already working at a disadvantage, but as a video game, this could have easily been a triple A title. I felt this the same way with Snyder’s earlier work, Sucker Punch.

Just look at the plot summary and see how unoriginal it is — but if rendered for a video game, could actually pass off as a decent enough PlayStation exclusive. Kora (Sofia Boutella) is a resident of a peaceful agricultural village suddenly ravaged by a savage military army. Having had a secret history of combat and wartime experience, she emerges as the last bastion of hope for their survival. 

Entrusted with the formidable task of rallying skilled fighters to stand against the oppressive Imperium, Kora assembles a disparate group of warriors from diverse worlds, united by a shared quest for redemption and revenge. Sounds like the plot of A Bug’s Life? Well, it is. All of those films, from Star Wars to Mad Max: Fury Road, owe a cinematic debt to Akira Kurosawa’s monumental 1954 masterpiece, Seven Samurai.

Now, imagine if Netflix had instead poured millions of dollars into a God of War-esque action-adventure or a Battlefront first-person shooter clone, but under the same world as Rebel Moon. While the narrative might certainly still appear repetitive, it won’t matter as soon as it gets submerged beneath waves of mindless, yet enthralling, action gameplay. I think that kind of recontextualization is how to best appreciate Zack Snyder’s filmography. 

For example, his slow-motion theatrics may not always translate seamlessly to Rebel Moon, but it would be glorious to see them emerge after pressing both triangle and circle on your controller. Explaining the entire film lore through a robot might seem overwhelming within a two-hour runtime, but it becomes a mere droplet in comparison to the 30-plus hours that gaming anticipates you to invest. Even Snyder’s inclination for extended director’s cuts aligns more cohesively with the medium, given its expectation for breaks. Video games allow the story to simmer in your mind and permit you to approach it at your own pace.

Even secondary characters such as Djimon Hounsou’s General Titus and Bae Doona’s Nemesis could have thrived with optional backstory footnotes — a frequent feature in video games where extensive character backgrounds are condensed into notes, scrolls, or stone carvings for gamers to explore if they desire a deeper understanding of these characters. In the film, there’s simply not enough time to fully acquaint oneself with Titus, Kai, or the villainous Admiral Atticus (depicted with a notable touch of spice by Ed Skrein).

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It’s also a bit frustrating that this film, already dedicated to setting up who our warriors are, barely has any of the warriors in it. Part two is still tasked with a substantial amount of heavy lifting, needing to further endear us to the characters, humanize the villagers in need of saving, and elevate the stakes for what looks to be a galaxy-wide resistance on top of its small-scale war. 

It’s an incredibly dense world that we’ve only barely scratched the surface — and while that signals a sign of interest for more to come, I’d understand if people are turned off already because there is no hook. The allure lies in the combat, the gripping hand-to-hand physicality and exhilarating gunplay infusing personality into the vastness of space. I just wish I had a controller with me while watching so I could be invested in doing some sick slo-mo combos. –

‘Rebel Moon: Part One’ is now streaming on Netflix.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.