Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Rebel Moon is the most Snyder that Snyder has ever been

Lucasfilm dodged a glowing, blurry, vaguely yellowish, excessively slowed-down bullet

One could summarize Rebel Moon as "the Zack Snyder of Star Wars," which would sound mean-spirited if it weren't its literal description. Conceived originally as Snyder's pitch for Lucasfilm and eventually rescued by Netflix, Rebel Moon files off the Star Wars serial numbers just enough to prevent lawsuits from the Mouse. As you would expect, it tells the story of a loosely assembled team of impromptu freedom fighters who rise up against a brutal interstellar empire. A tale as old as time, and one that Lucasfilm has kept profitable for nine movies and I forget how many TV shows. But Snyder's version of this formula, stripped of its identifiable markers for legal reasons, becomes a nameless, featureless collection of plot beats and cool poses. If there was ever a time when the infamous itch for canceling everything at Netflix could be used for good, it's now. There's no need for a Rebel Moon Part 2, or for all the multimedia spinoffs Snyder is reportedly preparing. This is not the galaxy you're looking for.

As I've written here before, I'm a fan of neither Star Wars nor Zack Snyder. Their missteps are plain to see to me. But even I was unprepared for the combination of the more generic, people-pleasing bits of the former with the more self-indulgent excesses of the latter. To put it in perspective: the production of the Barbie movie caused a brief scarcity of pink paint. Now that Rebel Moon is available on Netflix, has anyone checked on the world's supply of sepia pixels?

In theory, it should have been fascinating to watch a director's rendition of Star Wars without its distinctive visual identity. It would be a look behind the curtain, a dissection of the inner machinery that makes Star Wars go. Such a unique opportunity would help prove the case that a great portion of the transgenerational appeal of Star Wars has relied more on its art design than on its plotting. What is Star Wars without the double sunsets, the Stormtrooper armors, the outlandish hairstyles, the lightsabers? What is that story actually saying? You won't get that from Snyder's version. Instead of revealing the interior of a story without all the style getting in the way, Rebel Moon is nothing but style. Even worse, being only the first half of a planned duology, it hyperfocuses on character introductions. Far too many introductions, in fact. In a manner that brings to mind the first Suicide Squad movie, each of these heroes gets exactly one scene to look awesome and then dutifully retreats into the background, because this may be an ensemble cast, but the script only really cares for two characters.

Our protagonist, a Mysterious Lady of Mystery trying to keep a low profile in a remote rural planet but unable to keep in check her resting side-eye face, is, of course, more closely connected to the evil empire than she's let on. When a warship pays a visit to demand grain and the soldiers start getting dirty ideas about the local women, she is forced to blow her cover and singlehandedly wallops an entire squad while looking fabulous doing it. Then she runs away with her Designated Romantic Interest, but only because he knows the right people who know the right people who can help them amass forces for when the empire strikes back retaliates. This is the point when the plot turns into a succession of recruitment quests that go on for too long, don't serve to reveal their characters, and don't advance the story. We do get a handful of poster-worthy shots, which is what Snyder actually cares about. Instead of dramatizing the deep human questions that form the substance of the great epics, Rebel Moon is content with just looking epic.

Because filming 300 somehow didn't give Snyder his fill of rock-hard abs in desaturated slow motion, the fight scenes in Rebel Moon double down on all his filmmaking vices. You know how it goes: gory carnage filmed as if it were ballet, smoke and flying debris covering each shot you're trying to watch, and primal screams galore. The scenes that are not fights don't let the viewer have much of a breather, given Snyder's signature obsession with characters musing on a worthy way to die.

A story that consciously inserts itself in the tradition of Star Wars is expected to have something to say about empires. Episodes 4-6 showed how empires are less invincible than they make themselves appear in propaganda; episodes 1-3 showed how dangerously easy it is for a free society to degenerate into an empire; and episodes 7-9 showed how the shadow of the imperial impulse must be fought again in each generation. What say you, Episode Snyder? Empire bad. Empire go pew pew. Goodie need bigger pew pew.

Rebel Moon doesn't have time for its overcrowded cast to explore the themes of domination and exploitation in the context of the 21st century. It resorts to the most elemental trick of shining applause lights on your screen and expecting you to cheer, except these applause lights are full of dynamite. All the characterization that should make you care about these heroes is said to have been reserved for the extended cut, which says enough about Snyder's storytelling priorities. Just thinking of the fact that there is an extended cut makes me shudder with terror. I felt dead inside after spending two hours with this troupe of one-note permascowls, and I can't think of a good reason to add another full hour (and a sequel, and an extended cut of the sequel) to that ordeal.

Nerd Coefficient: 3/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.