Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver Limps a Lifeless Franchise Along

Movies Reviews Zack Snyder
Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver Limps a Lifeless Franchise Along

A mere four months ago, Paste’s Brianna Zigler argued that Rebel Moon—Part One: A Child of Fire, Zack Snyder’s streaming sci-fi opus, was “over before it even started.” This is in reference to the fact that the film was specifically positioned by Netflix as merely the appetizer before the meal: The director’s cuts of A Child of Fire and Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver are apparently coming this summer, but not before we’re force-fed intentionally botched PG-13 versions of each film. In a display of braindead corporate boardroom logic, this seems to be to drum up hype for the potentially better versions that are coming down the pipe, clearly attempting to capitalize on the rabid demand for the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League. The critical reception of Part One suddenly made the prospect of Part Two coming out just months later more of an ominous threat than a promise. 

You’d be right to be wary: If watching Rebel Moon—Part One was over before it started, Part Two is a miserable exercise in unearned hubris. Netflix is the main culprit, so brazenly cynical is its ploy to build feigned hype for the real versions of these movies. But, though I typically defend Snyder’s staunch dedication to his particular vision, I’m not so quick to let him off the hook either. A recent interview hot off the presses of Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver press tour sees Snyder insisting that “You may love or hate my movies, but a vote against me is a vote for the focus-grouped version.” 

Normally I may agree with this, as Snyder’s vision is typically deliberately, often contentiously, very much his own. But it’s hard to ignore the patronizing irony of that statement when all we’ve got right now are the focus-grouped versions of Rebel Moon movies cobbled together from ideas taken from some of the most popular properties every made—editions of the Not Star Wars movies where Snyder was given carte blanche, then were completely mangled for a Netflix marketing scheme we’re meant to embrace. You could feel the holes in A Child of Fire, and they’re just as prominent in The Scargiver, a follow-up so unsatisfying that it will be a true feat of directorial loyalty if anyone retains passing interest to give the still-to-come R-rated editions a shot (let alone the apparent four additional movies Snyder apparently has in mind for the franchise).

Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver starts with a quick recap from the Anthony Hopkins-voiced robot Jimmy, for those of us in the audience who most assuredly forgot whatever it was that happened in the last movie. Villagers Kora (Sofia Boutella) and Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) from the agricultural moon Veldt left their farming community to assemble a team of fighters after the fascist Imperium, led by the sadistic Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) had arrived and exerted their rule. They successfully defeated Noble, and went back home to live happily ever after. The only problem is, as The Scargiver is quick to remind us, Noble was recovered from the battle site and is being nursed back to health. So it goes.

That’s where we pick up with our band of rebels, returning to Veldt to share the good news of their success, only to immediately learn from Imperium defector Aris (Sky Yang) that their fleet of Dreadnought ships are on their way back to the village regardless, the group unaware of Noble’s survival. Titus (Djimon Hounsou), the former Imperium general whom Kora and the rest of the gang spent most of the last movie looking to recruit, hatches a plan: The villagers must all prepare for the impending invasion by…farming. Specifically, harvesting all of their precious wheat, and stockpiling the grain all around the settlement so that the ships will be dissuaded from blasting them to hell upon arrival.

It’s a bit of a harebrained scheme that the film bases its entire structure around, meaning this entry feels even more trifling than the previous. Instead of continuing to directly ape the likes of Star Wars, Snyder is now going full-bore into the fundamentals that inspired George Lucas by directly re-creating the “defend the village” story of Seven Samurai. It puts The Scargiver in a tricky position, as the scale of the action in the latter half of the film is larger than that of the first, but the overall scope is decidedly smaller; as opposed to the planet-hopping expedition of Part One, Part Two takes place entirely on Veldt.

This doesn’t lend itself to a particularly exciting first hour. It’s the requisite build-up to the explosion of action that will assuredly come later, but we’re stuck with characters that exist purely as the bland archetypes established in the first movie. The script makes some obligatory attempts to flesh out each member of the team, namely in a single scene where the group goes around in a circle narrating each of their traumatic backstories as we watch each flashback one-by-one, but these heroes still fail to feel like their own distinct persona, let alone like a unified fighting squad. They’re just together because the movie put them together—these are the people that will save the day because, hell, someone’s gotta do it. Don’t expect much more than that.

In fact, the whole first half of Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver reveals just how painfully underwritten these movies are. Snyder may be trying to subvert the expectations of a big-budget sci-fi franchise by going more intimate (when a typical sequel would go bigger), exploring even further reaches of the world that’s been established, but that doesn’t work when you don’t have compelling fundamentals. Now I just have to watch characters I don’t care about farm wheat with Snyder, once again working as his own cinematographer, trying to do his best Terrence Malick impression.

Thankfully, The Scargiver is perceptive enough to realize you will want to be rewarded for your troubles, and dedicates its entire back half to the climactic showdown, which is satisfactorily entertaining, though far from the most novel pieces of hyper-stylized combat that we’ve seen Snyder provide. I’m usually a proponent of his typical action shooting style—the frequent and excessive use of carefully choreographed slo-mo and speed-ramping imbues the fighting with a melodramatic pageantry that sets his films apart from the norm—but much of it here feels like going through the motions, all bloodless and inelegantly chopped up in order to save the extra gruesome stuff for the later cut. Snyder skeptics will not be convinced by anything they see here, and I find it difficult to imagine that even acolytes of the director would go to bat for any of the sequences as standing up to his best work, despite the battle being impressively sustained for an hour.

And yet, in spite of every dire aspect of this movie, Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver is still the stronger effort of the two films. Perhaps that speaks to the woeful quality of Part One more than anything, but in streamlining his vision, Snyder is able to better hone in on the stronger qualities of his visceral forms of warfare, having gotten all the set-up and compulsory attempts at worldbuilding out of the way already. The Scargiver has the passive benefit of being more readily digestible with your brain turned all the way off, just sitting back and taking in the occasionally nice-looking shot or neat piece of blocking when someone gets shot down or stabbed in the chest, chuckling at Snyder’s empty and macho attempt at dorky space-opera. But in that same vein, it’s better in the way that stepping on a thumbtack is kind of better than stepping on a screw. It still sucks, just maybe a little less.

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, Kurt Johnstad
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Doona Bae, Ray Fisher, Staz Nair, Fra Fee, Elise Duffy, Charlotte Maggi, Stuart Martin, Cary Elwes, Anthony Hopkins
Release Date: April 19, 2024

Trace Sauveur is a writer based in Austin, TX, where he primarily contributes to The Austin Chronicle. He loves David Lynch, John Carpenter, the Fast & Furious movies, and all the same bands he listened to in high school. He is @tracesauveur on Twitter where you can allow his thoughts to contaminate your feed.

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