We open on the planet of Veldt, a remote, rural community at the very edge of the universe controlled by the despotic Motherworld government. It’s this farming community where Kora (Sofia Boutella) has made her new home after fleeing from the Imperial Army, hoping to start a new life to atone for the sins of her past. But at the start of a crucial harvest season, that peace is threatened by the arrival of the army, who want to be given significant crops to help keep them fed and ready for battle at the galaxy’s outer reaches, where they are hunting rebels. With the army intimidating the residents into a no-win situation — either supply them with all their crops, starving the farmers to death, or be killed on the spot — Kora realizes it’s time to take action and fight for her adopted home, embarking on a quest across the galaxy to find other rebels who will help defend them from the Imperial fighters once they return.
If “Star Wars” was George Lucas’ tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress,” then “Rebel Moon” is Zack Snyder’s attempt to make a space opera out of another Kurosawa classic: “Seven Samurai.” As with his other influences here, the director makes zero attempts to disguise the obvious parallels between both, finding something oddly liberating in laying out the ways he aims to adhere to a tried-and-tested storytelling formula. Naturally, it doesn’t hold a candle to such a totemic influence, but it is an effective tribute, with the first act slowly building a sense of unrelenting dread as the farming community faces the biggest existential threat it’s ever faced. Once again, the sign that the film was working for me was that I couldn’t overlook the story it was mimicking but found myself drawn in and unnerved despite the familiarity.
It should be noted that the specific inciting incident that leads Kora to embark on her revenge mission will reignite a criticism rightfully leveraged at one of Snyder’s earlier films, “Sucker Punch,” through the way it portrays sexual assault. Like that effort, this isn’t an R-rated movie — the bloodlessness of the otherwise effectively staged fight scenes might be the biggest flaw on the whole — but “Rebel Moon” is instead a PG-13 attempt at an audience-friendly blockbuster, which means that any attempts to do justice to the portrayal of such a consequential threat feel awkward.