Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver review – Zack Snyder’s bombastically fun sequel

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Is there a contemporary Hollywood film-maker who better epitomizes the modern commerce-v-art quagmire than Zack Snyder? Snyder has an instantly recognizable style and a deathless dedication to his singular vision; he also, at the behest of various studios, volunteers to think almost entirely in terms of franchises, comic books and self-conscious myth-making – whether he’s trying to interrogate those myths or just build them up so he can smash them down with maximum mayhem.

Rebel Moon, his sci-fi/fantasy franchise for Netflix, pulls both sides of his career to further extremes. It’s a multimillion-dollar two-parter (for now) that’s technically original and highly derivative, with Snyder’s fanboy obsessions taken so far around the bend that they become niche again. Even his hordes of online fans don’t seem to care that much about it. Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver, following last year’s A Child of Fire kickoff, is supposed to be an explosive finale. But with expanded R-rated cuts of both movies definitely on the way, and ideas rattling around in Snyder’s brain for even more sequels, the whole project feels like one long, never-ending middle.

And yet: maybe this accidental middle ground is exactly what Snyder needs. Structurally, The Scargiver is no one’s idea of a proper stand-alone movie, or even a normal sequel. The first film followed the recruitment efforts of Kora (Sofia Boutella), an ex-soldier whose idyllic life on the humble farming moon Veldt is interrupted by Imperial – er, Imperium forces demanding all of their crops. Kora and Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) set out to find warriors willing to help defend Veldt; by making his failed Star Wars pitch without Lucasfilm, Snyder cut out the middleman on his Seven Samurai ripoff.

Though A Child of Fire ended by kinda-sorta killing off main Imperium bad guy Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) in a pre-emptive skirmish, he was quickly revived, so that The Scargiver can basically function as Climactic Battle: The Movie. Kora and Gunnar, along with their recruits Nemesis (Doona Bae), Titus (Djimon Hounsou) and Tarak (Staz Nair), return to Veldt and rally the citizens to defend themselves against Noble and the Imperium forces. That’s pretty much the whole movie.

This means almost all of The Scargiver is set on and above Veldt, a disappointing change from the gleeful planet-hopping of the first film. Here, instead of various sequences of nabbing warriors from various Star Wars-y worlds, there’s a single extended scene where the warriors trade backstory secrets, featuring some flashbacks that go off-world, plus a longer one revealing more about Kora’s checkered past. That’s all part of the protracted calm before the laser-blasting storm; during this early section, Snyder also includes a farming montage as only the director of 300 could. When these rebels reap their harvest of grain, they reap hard.

The comparably quieter moments all lead into an extended battle sequence that fuses last-stand westerns with a cartoon version of first world war trench warfare, and brings to mind overloaded early-2000s digital-cinema spectacles like Attack of the Clones or The Matrix Revolutions. (If that makes you shudder, subtract one star from this review’s rating. If you couldn’t stand A Child of Fire, might as well subtract two or three.) Snyder favors barrages over set pieces, and character design (which is often delightful) over character development (which is typically minimal); the nuances of human relationships elude him. He even has trouble with human-robot relationships; Jimmy, the mechanical man voiced by Anthony Hopkins, is still lurking around grappling with his sense of self. This leaves Boutella, a muscular and graceful presence, to sell Kora’s regrets, determination and self-lacerating fury with the kind of physical expressiveness that would be equally at home in silent movies and fantastical motion-capture.

Lucky as Snyder is to have her, the whole movie doesn’t rest on Boutella. There’s also a deranged zeal to Snyder’s muchness. If he’s going to bust out the kind of floating/falling giant airship over-favored by Kevin Feige in half a dozen Marvel movies, at least he stages a terrific sliding-objects fight during the fall. If he’s going to knock off his own versions of lightsabers, they’re going to look sharper and deadlier. If he’s going to utilize his newest favorite directorial party trick – focus so shallow that only a minority of any given image looks sharp at a time – he’s going to do it with the utmost commitment, even when it’s nonsensical (as in establishing shots).

Rebel Moon almost certainly didn’t need to be two multiple-cut movies. It probably could have gotten by as zero. But as a playground for Snyder’s favorite bits of speed-ramping, shallow-focusing and pulp thievery, it’s harmless, sometimes pleasingly weird fun. (That said, the first part is better and weirder.) The large-scale pointlessness feels more soothing than his past insistence on attempting to translate Watchmen into a big-screen epic, or make Superman into a tortured soul. Even Rebel Moon’s shameless attempts at serialization – The Scargiver essentially ends with another extended sequel tease, this time for a movie that stands a decent chance of never happening – feel freeing, because they excuse Snyder from the uncomfortable business of staging an apocalyptic showdown, or, worse, imparting a mournful philosophy. The whole bludgeoning enterprise is so daftly sincere, you could almost call it sweet.

  • Rebel Moon Part 2: The Scargiver is out now on Netflix

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