Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver (2024)

Back in December, Zack Snyder offered his very Snyder-y holiday take on big-budget space operas with Rebel Moon, a project that began as his Star Wars pitch that was turned down. It was what you would expect from a Snyder movie: big, loud, silly yet played completely serious, and drained of all vibrant color. Rebel Moon Part One was on my worst of 2023 list and I felt was a waste of two hours. I was not looking forward to the concluding Part Two. I was worried it would be two more hours of the same, and now having seen Part Two, a.k.a. The Scargiver, the edgy nickname of our lead rebel Kora (Sofia Boutella) fighting the good fight against the Evil Empire, I can now say that the Rebel Moon duology is now a dreary waste of four of your waking hours.

Saying Scargiver might be minimally better than Child of Fire (did you remember that was the subtitle for Part One? Don’t lie to me, dear reader, you know you didn’t) is a nominal victory. There’s more action and a clearer sense of climax, with our underdogs planning their guerrilla war against the overpowering forces approaching (we’re basically watching the training of a Vietcong-like insurgency) and then pulling off their unexpected victory. The problem is that we’re still stuck with all the same characters from Part One, few of which will prove to be emotionally engaging or intriguing. We’ve assembled our fighting force thanks to the events of Part One, but far too many of them are interchangeable and punishingly free of personality besides the default character creation setting of “stoic badass.” There’s one lady who has laser swords so at least that sets her apart. When it comes to attitude, personality, perspective, and even skill level, these characters are awash, which makes the action falter when it comes to any sort of meaningful emotional involvement. The bare bones story is so plain with broadly drawn good versus evil characters from its obvious cultural influences. The fact that it’s derivative is not itself a major fault, it’s the fact that it does so little with these familiar pieces that the movie feels like it’s trying to skate by on your familiarity. After four hours, it’s clear to me that Snyder and his co-writers composed this not as a living, breathing universe with its own lore and history and intrigue, but as a story where he could have used the Star Wars universe to fill in the gaps.

Snyder can be a first-class visual stylist, but his sense of fluid and engaging action stops at “cool images,” like living splash pages from comic books. Like Part One, there is no sense of weight to these action sequences. Things are just happening, and then in the next shot things are just happening. Occasionally there will be a sliver of relation, but whether it’s 60 minutes or 6 minutes, the effect is still the same. The action feels like it’s all happening in a vacuum, and the momentum we feel the upstarts are gaining is hampered. We went through the trouble of explaining their counter-offensives, so why does so much of it feel like it’s just watching a jumbled, ashen group of characters fire guns? This is best epitomized by Jimmy the robot (voiced by Anthony Hopkins) who has gone rogue from his programming and sits out much of the action for reasons entirely unknown. Then he arrives, takes down a few evil tanks, and I guess decides to sit back out. If this is our fighting force, what exactly has it amounted to? This makes the entire movie, and its predecessor, a frustrating viewing even for forgiving action fans. Things blow up good, and there are a few impressive visual orchestrations, but it’s so fleeting and slim.

Over the course of two two-hour movies, totaling four hours, with the promise (threat?) of more, it’s clear that what we really had here was perhaps one underdeveloped movie at best that has been unfortunately spread out over two (and counting) movies of time. Part One was entirely about assembling the team of rugged defenders, and this could have served as the first 45 minutes of the overall movie, with the events of Part Two filling in the rest. With Scargiver, the defenders don’t even start training the villagers until 40 minutes into the movie and the big battle doesn’t kick in until a full hour. Structurally, this doesn’t feel like we’re using our time wisely, and this is best evidenced by the fact that after AN ENTIRE MOVIE of character back-story, Snyder still stops the action to have his characters sit around and share their sad back-stories. Did these characters just not talk at all to each other after initially gathering person-by-person? Tarak (Staz Nair) still hasn’t put a shirt on. I felt like yelling at my TV as the character took turns, and another 15 minutes, for each member to share their tortured back-story again but with different visuals. I was almost worried that right before the battle another character would say, “Wait, before it all really goes down, I need to share, yet again, more of my back-story.” It’s not like these extra glimpses give us new understanding or even meaningfully differentiate their characters; they’re all just victims of an abusive space government that imposes its terrible will most forcefully.

There is one tragic back-story that does separate itself from the pack, notably because it literally separates itself from the pack and is told well before our group share. Kora explains her part in the assassination of the royal family, securing the military coup that left the Evil Empire extra evil, and I guess the guy named Balisarius as supreme leader (oh how this man must have been teased for his name as a schoolchild, which might be his own tragic back-story that we’ll get three helpings of with an eventual Part Three). This betrayal is personal and stands out, with Kora being the one to shoot the little princess, a girl who, in her dying breath, says she forgives Kora. That’s rough. This is actually a good sequence from a character standpoint as it establishes Kora’s accountability and guilt convincingly. However, Snyder makes some baffling creative choices that blunt the impact of this sequence. During the assassination, the musical score favors a string quartet, which is an emotionally plaintive choice. However, the music is actually diegetic to the scene, meaning it’s coming live from the room. There is literally a string quartet of musicians playing in the room while the royal family is betrayed and slaughtered. These guys are really dedicated to their art to keep playing throughout, and I assume they must also be part of the conspiracy or else big bad Balisarus (snicker) would kill them too. You might as well have them also start stabbing the royal family with their bows. It’s details like this that trip up Snyder, a man beholden to images and ideas but lacking the finesse to make them work.

An issue I had with this conflict was the disparity in scale between the forces, mainly my nagging question of why put together a ragtag group of space adventurers to defend this town if the Evil Empire could just nuke the planet from space? Well Snyder attempts to answer this early with Part Two, and the answer appears to be… grain. This community theorizes that the empire needs their grain yield so badly that they wouldn’t do anything to damage it, so their plan is to harvest all their wheat, turn it into grain, and then use the grain like human shields, hiding behind the valuable resource as cover and distributing it across the village. This is beyond silly. First, this isn’t like an entire planet harvesting grain, it’s one little village on the outskirts. It’s not like we’ve seen a giant warehouse that goes for miles and miles stockpiled with thousands if not millions of deposits of this food. Also, we’re talking grain here (stay tuned for my exclusive Rebel Moon-related podcast called “Talkin’ Grain”). It’s not like we’re talking about some super rare mineral or substance that is only found on this one planet, something linked toward like the power source for an ultimate weapon or space travel. We’re talking about grain here. Grain. You think this Evil Empire won’t nuke the planet because they’re worried they won’t get enough grain, the same crop that can be harvested on multitudes of other planets? How about they just kill everyone and then repopulate the planet with robots to harvest the precious grain? Or how about this simple village make some upgrades as we’re in a future world with space travel and artificial intelligence but people are still harvesting wheat by hand like they’re the Amish. Regardless, I hope you love slow-mo montages of grain harvesting because that’s what you’re getting for the first 40 minutes, as if Snyder is rubbing your face in his silly non-answer.

In the conclusion to Rebel Moon Part Two, once the dust has settled, and long since that grain has been harvested, the last five minutes sets up a would-be Part Three, informing us that an unresolved storyline is next up on the docket. The characters gang up for their next adventure, and you’re expected to be chomping at the bit for this continuation. I openly sighed. Every movie feels like a tease for the next adventure, and it seems to promise that this one will be the real one you’ve been waiting for, but it feels like franchise bait-and-switch. It’s more than incomplete or lazy storytelling, it’s a scheme to leverage interest in a world and series that deserves little. The universe of Rebel Moon is not interesting. The characters of Rebel Moon are not interesting. The visuals of Rebel Moon are fine, though some of the costume choices again can rip you right out of the reality of this universe (a guy fighting in blue jean overalls?!). In short, not enough has been established, developed, or even paid off to make Rebel Moon an interesting and satisfying movie, let alone two, let alone three, let alone however many Snyder wants to leech out of Netflix. I would say Part Two is better because at least it provides an ending but it doesn’t even do that, merely an intentional passing of the baton to the next movie, and round and round we go. Rebel Moon is a living poster stretched to its breaking point. Leave this shallow universe behind.

Nate’s Grade: C-

This review originally ran on Nate’s own review site Nathanzoebl. Check it out for hundreds of excellent reviews!

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