Once upon a time, Netflix killed Blockbuster Video. Ironic, given the streaming service’s commitment to find their own blockbuster franchise. Enter Zack Snyder – the GigaChad of cinema and the bastion saint of all things Dark & Gritty™. Snyder has made a career of taking popular genres and turning them on their violent heads. So it seems it was only a matter of time before he made his way for the fabled space opera. Rebel Moon, Snyder’s passion project for over a decade, has hopes of being Netflix’s closest thing to a blockbuster success to date, a sprawling space epic that you’d ideally want to see on the biggest and best screen possible. While the movie is scheduled for a brief theater run, it’s true success will lie in how it plays on millions of televisions and home theater setups across the globe. The movie is based on an original screenplay from Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Shay Hatten, while an outline of the film’s synopsis is as follows:
In a universe controlled by the corrupt government of the Mother World, the moon of Veldt is threatened by the forces of the Imperium, the army of the Mother World controlled by Regent Balisarius. Kora, a former member of the Imperium who seeks redemption for her past in the leadership of the oppressive government, tasks herself to recruit warriors from across the galaxy to make a stand against the Mother World’s forces before they return to the planet.
If this sounds a lot like Star Wars (1977) and Seven Sumarai (1954) smashed together, that’s because it was originally intended to be an entry in that galaxy far, far away. Snyder originally pitched the concept of this movie to Lucasfilm, around the time of the studio’s sell to the Walt Disney corporation. Those original plans fell through, forcing the project into limbo as Snyder honed his focus on the burgeoning DC Extended Universe. However, the separation between Snyder and Warner Bros, leading to the director’s partnership with Netflix, has breathed new life into Rebel Moon.
Snyder isn’t the first director to enjoy a fresh start with the streaming giant; hell, even McG, of all fucking people, had a mini comeback with 2017’s surprisingly fun The Babysitter. Netflix has also acted as a haven for the likes of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Jane Campion, Alfonso Cuarón, and Rian Johnson. That’s a murderer’s row of talent producing some of the best movies of the last several years. Snyder isn’t on their level from strictly a storytelling perspective, but his connection to geek culture and action movie junkies makes him potentially a valuable member of Netflix’s content strategy. Up to now, this has manifested in weird ways. Army of the Dead (2021) was released to mixed yet mostly positive acclaim, but is probably more infamous now for winning the Oscar’s first (and last) award for Best Fan Favorite Film. An award that’s nary respected due to the abundance of bots, from Snyder die-hards, used to inflate the votes of the film.
Rebel Moon won’t have to deal with being at the center of such a ridiculous campaign, but Snyder and his movies remain a polarizing discussion point. His critics take issue with his lackluster execution of story and character arcs, as well as a visual style that is too saturated for some. His fans are swept away by the striking shots and poses that Snyder’s self-drawn storyboards can produce, while also maintaining that there’s nothing wrong with the director’s storytelling choices – insisting the general public just doesn’t get his vision or appeal. We’re likely at the point where very few people will change their opinion of this guy’s work; how you feel about Zack Snyder today is likely how you’ll always feel. But there’s no fun in just accepting the status quo, and Rebel Moon is another case study to see if Snyder can win over some of his detractors, or will the movie simply reaffirm what his critics already believe about his work?
Snyder, and Netflix, is certainly confident in the project, as it’s only been recently revealed that Rebel Moon is in fact a two-part cinematic event. The first, subtitled Part One: A Child of Fire, will drop in December, while Part Two: The Scargiver is scheduled to be released on April 19, 2024. Currently at the center of the robust marketing strategy is the movie’s 3 minute long trailer:
Yep, that definitely looks like what would happen if the director of 300 went and made a star war. Especially blatant with the number of scenes showcasing characters using weapons that are very much intended to be light sabers – although dare I say those swords seem pretty cool. Look, I know much of the internet is going to harp on this and kick Zack in the nuts for the similarities with Star Wars. However, I think the guy should be given a pass on this, mostly because he originally intended this story to be an actual film in the Star Wars franchise. In addition, Snyder is hardly the first person to crib George Lucas’ magnum opus, while Lucas himself also borrowed from a plethora of sources to construct his space opera. Visually speaking, there’s enough variety of design as well as a litany of gorgeous imagery to make sure the Star Wars comparison isn’t so on the nose.
The story itself seems simple and straightforward but also well-worn. We’ve seen many of these cliches before, and Rebel Moon’s struggle will be in elevating these characters from mere archetypes and into people you genuinely care about. That’s the meta of it all – lots of things are cliche, but you remember those that were executed well. Most people accept that Zack Snyder’s movies are capable of great visual imagery. Even some of the scripts for his movies harbor the germ of a good idea. Where he often falters is in getting those ideas to the finish line. However, here he’s not doing a remake, adapting a graphic novel, or shepherding a cinematic universe. This is his baby, his story, wholly his vision – for better or worse. Thus, we’ll see Zack Snyder as unfettered and uncensored as he’s ever been, perhaps providing the biggest evidence on if he truly is the filmmaker of spectacle that has been promised or if the emperor has no clothes.
Rebel Moon Part One: A Child of Fire will debut on Netflix, and in select theaters, on December 22, 2023.