The parallels between Rebel Moon and Star Wars — both set in a galaxy ruled by an authoritarian empire challenged by a small band of rebels — are overstated and certainly not the primary issue with Zack Snyder’s space opera, which draws liberal inspiration from the past 50 years of sci-fi movies. This “Part 1” (due to be concluded next year) sets up the pleasantly small-scale stakes of a farming community facing a ticking clock to destruction, but it devolves into a collect-a-thon when Kora leaves to recruit warriors to aid their fight. It turns the film’s second act into a series of extended introductions to cookie-cutter characters, usually involving violence. An amalgamation of these scenes may have made for a bombastic trailer but laid out in full it is barely watchable. Rebel Moon’s most interesting character is the android Jimmy, a contemplative former soldier voiced by Anthony Hopkins, but once established he vanishes (the fact he may be relevant in Part 2 does little to aid this film). A villainous Ed Skrein is at least enjoying himself as a cruel and capricious officer. Disappointingly, much of the world building occurs through clunky expository monologues about Kora’s past rather than emerging organically from the story. The purpose of planet-hopping space opera should be to explore the variety offered by a vast galaxy, but Snyder’s “vision” is a series of grimy monochromatic locations that rarely feel like distinct worlds. The action is rote, save for Nemesis’s twin-bladed fight against a chimeric arachnid, and Snyder’s continuing predilection for slow-motion adds little beyond extending the running time. If Netflix is paying for “content”, there is plenty here but with little depth to any of it. Rebel Moon is not even thematically consistent, with Nemesis warning against revenge immediately followed by Kora enticing her next recruit with a promise of revenge. With the production values on display this is not Battlefield Earth bad, but it does become nearly as ponderous. Snyder recently stated that he was glad he didn’t get his wish to direct a Star Wars movie because it granted him greater creative control in Rebel Moon instead; perhaps we should all be equally glad, if not for the same reason.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s third feature film is in some ways an amalgamation of her first two: the striking A Girl Walks Home Alone at Midnight and the frustratingly uneven The Bad Batch. When it comes to protagonists, Amirpour certainly has a type: strong, laconic women — survivors in a strange world. Blood Moon follows Mona over a several nights after she escapes a mental institution and finds herself in New Orleans. Louisiana may be my second home but this version of the city is unrecognisable — an oversaturated hyper-reality that seems to exist almost entirely by night (actually that part might be accurate). Mona’s overpowered mind control is revealed in the opening scene, meaning that the audience is never really concerned for her safety, driven more by a morbid curiosity as to how much havoc she will wreak. Since she barely speaks, the void is filled by a handful of colourful supporting characters, most notably Kate Hudson’s avericious stripper and Ed Skrein’s sensitive dealer. Amirpour’s writing retains the ability to surprise, with humour derived from absurdity, like a low-speed chase between a cop in a leg brace and a stripper shuffling in platform heels. From these ingredients, Blood Moon’s concoction is an improvement over the The Bad Batch but is still style over substance.
“This is just a body. It’s not bad or good. That part’s up to you.”
Dr Dyson Ido
Alita is two thirds of a good origin story, spoiled by an unexpectedly truncated ending that provides no resolution. Despite the heavy CGI at play, Rodriguez’s direction keeps the majority of the film impressively grounded, and the action sequences in particular benefit greatly from characters that feel like they occupy physical space (e.g. a cyborg roller derby shot using the camera techniques used for NASCAR). Ending aside, the biggest flaw is an artistic choice that fails to pay off. Whilst virtually all of the cyborgs have human faces — even where attached to monstrous mechanical bodies — Alita’s is motion-captured CGI to mirror her manga origins and provide a slightly otherworldly appearance. The cartoonishly large eyes are expressive, but the overly smoothed skin and features fall heavily into the uncanny valley, undermining many of the films slower paced, emotional story beats. The fact that the effects work so well on the human-faced cyborgs only reinforces that this was a deliberation decision, if an unfortunate one.
“They gave me life, but I did the rest. I created me. You understand? We grow up, and we become our own creators.”
Despite pretensions toward cerebral sci-fi in the vein of Ex Machina, this is really a derivative trapped woman thriller that is elevated only by some impressive production design. The conceit is that Julie’s captor is using an AI-controlled house to imprison her, allowing her to develop a relationship with the AI rather than directly with her captor. Although Tau raises a few interesting ideas about controlling AI and limiting its access to information, it fails to capitalise on these. That the science fiction is more about aesthetic than intellect is clearest from the way deletion of memories is used as a method of “punishing” the AI but inexplicably manifests as inflicting pain.