The director’s crappy, self-serious, and unbelievably dull attempt to adapt Star Wars for smartphones is a mess.

Zack Snyder compared Rebel Moon to a cross between Star Wars and the Seven Samurai, akin to attempting to market a new invention as the marriage of the wheel and sliced bread. While the latter was a once-in-a-millennium Big Bang of raw movie stardom, snappy dialogue, and transportive production design that turned a mid-budget space oddity into a culture-straddling phenomenon, the former channeled all of Akira Kurosawa’s estimable powers in blocking, lighting, and composition for battles that still merit the nearly exhausted descriptor of “epic.” Both are fundamentally impossible to replicate. Thus, Lucasfilm declined Snyder’s high request, as did Warner Bros. (multiple times), until the kind folks at Netflix uncinched their easily loosened purse strings in favor of what had steadily evolved into the longest-simmering blockbuster king.

However, the final result only has the barest outlines of ambition, weakened by a clumsy approach that detracts from the latest CGI-jammed epic that attempts to determine the universe’s fate. This 134-minute film, if it can be called complete at all, really only focuses on the initial getting-the-gang together phase, which most genre films wrap up in the first half hour. The rest of the story will be resolved in a second installment that comes out next year. It is hoped that Snyder has saved more than just the big fight scenes that are noticeably missing from an adventure that easily fits on a laptop for his dramatic denouement.  (Longtime fans of Snyder may suddenly realize that his signature slow-motion action tableaus really resemble screensavers.) He still has time to give his motley crew of cardboard cutouts more depth as characters, add tactility to his unremarkable greenscreened settings, give the stultifyingly generic plot a deeper sense of meaning, and do everything else that leaves a sort of polished nothingness in its absence. However, by the end credits, it seems excessive to expect someone to return and discover the truth.

Some film professors teach Campbellian mythmaking, the theories that identify and codify the narrative units re-contextualized since Grecian times, using the well-known example of Star Wars. Snyder’s scripting, while classically minded, shows a clear fluency with these concepts; however, he omitted the part about how the archetypes are supposed to be renewed through new contexts. The basic outline of a hero (Sofia Boutella, terse and humorless and physically perfect, just the way Snyder likes ’em) must defend her village from a distant notion of an Evil Empire on the modest farming planet of Wherever in the galaxy of Who Cares. They became powerful during a previous great calamity in which the Final Boss kidnapped our Hero and her family was killed. in order to teach her the fighting techniques she would need to exact her revenge. Snyder confuses world-building with exposition; the tediously presented mountains of backstory pull the viewer out of the fantasy instead of drawing them in.

She and her Sidekick (a neutered Michiel Huisman) bop around the cosmos rounding up sympathizers to their cause, including a self-interested yet caddishly likable mercenary we’ll call Not Han Solo (Charlie Hunnam, more visibly awake than most of his scene partners), in an attempt to overthrow the Mini-Boss (Ed Skrein, his British accent and high cheekbones marking him as a baddie). The easiest way to identify them is by their function, primarily because their names are frequently long and hard to remember, and because they are essentially just sketches with a muddy sound mix that doesn’t help viewers. Some are more memorable, but never for the right reasons. Random references are made by the squid-faced King Levitica and General Titus (Djimon Hounsou). which the author never tries to account for in the writing. Some are just ridiculous, such as the Blood Axe warriors, who are brothers and sisters, or Skrein’s sultry colonist who reports to Atticus Noble.

Snyder’s version of the Mos Eisley cantina is home to a fleshy parasite that uses its human host as a ventriloquist dummy, but his wretched hive of villainy lacks the upscale sushi restaurant’s clean interior decor and natural light. Despite a few clever creature designs, the handful of eccentricities never add up to a more colorful sense of personality. Science fiction, even when it goes horribly wrong, almost always produces some memorable weirdness as a tradeoff that has won over self-selecting cults to films like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets or Jupiter Ascending. In this instance, Snyder’s polite sensibility is completely devoid of any humor, whether deliberate or not. He considered the battle for Somewhere-or-Other to be his magnum opus because of its expansive unheard-of cumulative runtime and broad scope for his career. At minimum, gaining extreme control over one’s actions should be enjoyable and thrilling, allowing an artist to indulge in their wildest fantasies. Snyder’s supposed masterpiece is, instead, merely dull.


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