• Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

A little while back, there was a TV show called “The Orville,” starring creator/exec producer Seth McFarlane. The first season took a while to find its footing, as Fox took a long time getting comfortable with making and marketing a Seth McFarlane show that wasn’t necessarily a comedy. The second season was markedly better, until it ran headlong into the Fox/Disney merger.

A third season was eventually picked up for Hulu and went into production just in time for COVID to fuck everything up. But the third season did eventually come out and it kicked ass. At long last, “The Orville” had hit its stride and delivered on its promise of working as a spiritual successor to “Star Trek”, with intellectual science fiction wrapped up in compelling plotlines. There was now a bona fide fandom clamoring for a fourth season, just as soon as everyone gets around the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes, the mammoth production costs, whatever the hell is going on with Disney+ and Hulu, getting all the actors back from all the projects they’ve signed onto in the meantime, Seth MacFarlane needs to find time away from that new “Ted” TV spinoff he’s making…

“The Orville” couldn’t catch a break. But it still proved that the world is ready for new science fiction franchises to deliver a modern kind of fantasy, action, adventure, and thought-provoking discourse. Something inspired by “Star Trek”, “Star Wars”, and “Babylon 5”; the way those precursors were shaped by “Flash Gordon”, “Buck Rogers”, and “John Carter of Mars” in turn.

So here’s Rebel Moon: Part One — A Child of Fire, Netflix’s latest attempt at an original tentpole blockbuster franchise to dominate the mainstream. Because none of their previous efforts took any kind of long-term hold (see: Bright, Red Notice, Day Shift, etc.), Netflix needed someone with a proven track record of delivering billion-dollar world-conquering successes. Someone with the brains and the talent to launch a sprawling multimedia superfranchise.

But the Russo Brothers didn’t work out (see: The Gray Man, or better yet, don’t), so they went with Zack Snyder instead.

Once again, I have to disclose that I love Zack Snyder. Watchmen affected my life in far-reaching ways and I’ll always be grateful to him for that much. Trouble is, that’s where he peaked. Sucker Punch was too far out there and too far ahead of its time to effectively accomplish everything he wanted to do. Taking the Man of Steel gig turned out to be a mistake of historic proportions, and he wasn’t cut out to be the superfranchise overlord WB/DC wanted him to be. Army of the Dead wasn’t exactly a slam-dunk, and even if it was, it was never built to be the start of a massive shared universe — or even a sustainable film series — like Netflix wanted.

Yet Zack Snyder was given the means to craft an epic space opera, made and marketed as a spiritual successor to “Star Wars”. There’s certainly no doubt that Snyder takes huge and bold creative risks, for better or worse, and I’ve always admired him for that much. Anyway, what’s the story?

An opening narration from Sir Anthony Hopkins helpfully tells us about a sprawling interplanetary empire that got disrupted when the last of the royal line was assassinated. As a direct result, the outer planets of the empire are scrambling to fight for their independence while the elite politicians on the Motherworld are busy fighting to seize the crown. As a stopgap measure, the Imperial Army (under the command of Regent Balisarius, played by Fra Free) has been assigned to exterminate any separatists who might be gathering around the outer reaches.

We pick up the story on Veldt, a small and peaceful independent farming colony run by simple, hard-working, well-intentioned rural folk… you know the type. Things are going relatively well until the arrival of Imperial Admiral Atticus Noble. (And he’s played by Ed Skein, so you already know he’s an irredeemable piece of shit. No slight to the actor, he seems like a decent guy, but nobody hires him to play decent characters.) Noble comes to Veldt looking for grain to feed his soldiers, until a diplomatic request inevitably turns to an invasion. Noble slaughters the village chief (gamely played by Corey Stoll) and directs his soldiers to occupy the colony. Thus the village is given ten weeks to prepare a new harvest and hand over all the grain they have, under the supervision of Imperial thugs.

Enter Kora (Sofia Boutella), an enigmatic young woman who won’t go into detail about her past, only that she was running away from some unresolved trauma pertaining to the ongoing wars. She crash-landed onto Veldt some time ago and made herself useful as a farmer, so now she volunteers to go and get enough help to repel the Imperial invasion. Tagging along for the journey is Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), a potential love interest who was greedy and foolish enough to sell excess grain to separatist factions because the money was better.

In summary, what we’re getting here is a sci-fi Seven Samurai.

But let’s circle back to Zack Snyder’s Justice League for a second. Hell, let’s look back at Man of Steel and BvS while we’re at it. Snyder took on the challenge of adapting DC Comics to film and he took the assignment seriously. That’s to his credit. The problem is that he took it so seriously that he made the comics into underlit, po-faced, overlong, self-important drudges to sit through. He took it so seriously that he drained all the fun and flavor out of it.

That’s pretty much exactly what Snyder did here, but with “Star Wars”.

He kept the Japanese cinema influences, and took out pretty much all of the “Flash Gordon”. He kept the one-dimensional characters and the overwrought dialogue, and threw out nearly all of the spaceship battles and laser swords. He didn’t even replace all the whiz-bang adventure with dynamic political intrigue or relevant social commentary like Frank Herbert did with “Dune”.

He did, however, throw in an attempted rape. Yes, we’ve got a supporting female character (Sam, played by Charlotte Maggi) who exists only to be the victim of an attempted sexual assault by one-dimensional Imperial bullies to give our protagonist some motivation. Zack, buddy, even at your worst, I thought you were better than this.

Who in the nine blue blazing hells wanted to see an attempted rape in their high-flying space opera fantasy adventure?! Who the high holy fuck thought this was suitable for a PG-13 blockbuster tentpole franchise?! Seriously, Netflix, show me who needs to be fired for this and then throw them through a goddamn window!

Of course, that’s not to say the film is entirely void of action or fun. Praise is due to a neat little sequence in which a character (namely Tarak, played by Staz Nair) tames and rides what’s basically a griffin. Not exactly sci-fi, but at least it’s cool.

We also get a handful of fight sequences loaded with the speed-ramping brutality that made 300 and Watchmen so fantastic. Here’s the problem: Those were R-rated movies. It’s disheartening and frankly pathetic how the studio execs continuously make the mistake of taking PG-13 four-quadrant franchises and placing them in the care of someone with such blunt and mature sensibilities.

It’s not like this film was unsalvageable. Everyone in this cast is trying so damned hard to sell this hamfisted dialogue and redundant exposition, I can only wish they had a script and characters worthy of their talents. And when goddamn Charlie Hunnam is better than his lines, you know you’re in deep shit. And Sofia Boutella… I’m glad she’s finally getting showcased in a lead role, but gods above, she needs to land a role worthy of her range and charisma. I know she’s great with action roles, but she deserves a chance at so much more, I know she does.

Even the premise itself deserves so much better! On the surface, this is a movie about a protagonist who goes planet-hopping to secure the greatest badasses and outlaws in the galaxy. In theory, that sounds like a fantastic means of showing off various different parts and planets and cultures of this new universe. In practice, it’s all for naught because all the different locales are varying shades of dark brown or dark blue, and they’re all either desert wastelands or industrial hellscapes.

I will at least give this much to Rebel Moon: Part One — it doesn’t feel like a film made by committee. This absolutely looks and feels like the work of somebody who knew exactly what he wanted to make, and the studio execs more or less gave him a blank check with the sole condition that it had to be a PG-13 movie. There’s no doubt in my mind that Zack Snyder made this movie. But why he wanted to or who he made it for, that’s beyond me.

It’s too visually dull to be iconic, it’s too dour and broody to be any fun, it’s too monotonous to work as an adventure, and it’s too uninspired to be intelligent. And again, that attempted rape sequence in the first act is indefensible. If you think that’s acceptable in a PG-13 tentpole blockbuster, or that fridging is still permissible in freaking 2023, I don’t want to know you.

Still, Netflix is committed to at least one more movie (due next April). Regardless of how much better that sequel is, this franchise is irreparably fucked from the get-go. It’s not just a swing and a miss, the batter tore every ligament in his body in the process. It’s time for Netflix to focus on their television successes and give up on any hope of a mainstream billion-dollar blockbuster tentpole film franchise, because they’ve tried pretty much everything at this point and nothing has worked.

Fuck this movie.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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