'Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver' is a knockout punch of pure sci-fi cinema (review)

A tough woman in a tank top prepares to fire two space pistols
Sofia Boutella in "Rebel Moon — Part Two - The Scargiver." (Image credit: Netflix)

One of Zack Snyder's favorite films is John Boorman's 1981 medieval masterpiece 'Excalibur," a retelling of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table adapted from Sir Thomas Malory's 15th century work, "Le Morte d'Arthur." 

Snyder even inserted this film’s title on the marquee of the movie theater from which young Bruce Wayne and his parents exit prior to that fateful moment in Crime Alley in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

After my first fulfilling viewing of "Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver," a scene from "Excalibur's" ending immediately came to mind. The great Nigel Terry, playing a world-weary King Arthur, sips from the holy grail offered to him by his quest knight, Perceval. Instantly revived and invigorated, he declares, "I didn’t know how empty was my soul, until it was filled." And the irony struck me, like a sharp blow from a magical sword, that Snyder’s passion project, which began as a failed "Star Wars" pitch, becomes an emblem of what fans have yearned for in the "Star Wars" realm.

Related: Everything we know about 'Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver'

The Battle of Veldt begins in "Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver." (Image credit: Netflix)

Operating from a screenplay by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Shay Hatten, "Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver" picks up sometime after the Battle of Gondival. It continues "the epic saga of Kora and the surviving warriors as they prepare to sacrifice everything, fighting alongside the brave people of Veldt, to defend a once peaceful village, a newfound homeland for those who have lost their own in the fight against the Motherworld," according to the official description. 

"On the eve of their battle, the warriors must face the truths of their own pasts, each revealing why they fight. As the full force of the Realm bears down on the burgeoning rebellion, unbreakable bonds are forged, heroes emerge, and legends are made."

Sure, it's a simple enough premise upon cursory examination, born from a verisimilitude of storylines repeated over the decades in literature, film, and TV. The most obvious influence is director Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" with its honorable warriors recruited to help protect a humble village, but "Rebel Moon's" DNA is also rooted in the longstanding tradition of classic Hollywood westerns with settlers protecting their crops, cattle and cool water from greedy intruders.

Anthony Hopkins breathes life into Jimmy the royal robot. (Image credit: Netflix)

But to sell "Rebel Moon" off as just another "Star Wars" knockoff of familiar "Hero's Journey" fare is to ignore the artful presentation and technical prowess on display in "Part Two: The Scargiver." Take a closer look into Snyder's magician's hat and you'll discover a wealth of filmmaking tricks and visionary prestidigitation that can wring a grin out of even the most callous critics.

The performances here are fully invested, especially Sofia Boutella's Kora and Michiel Huisman's Gunnar. Ed Skrein gnaws on the scenery in a complex portrayal of the primary villain, the treacherous Imperium enforcer Admiral Noble, and the showdown buildup lets itself settle down slightly to offer up some tender interludes and unexpected emotion. We're also given much more of the haggard war robot Jimmy, which features Sir Anthony Hopkins' heartfelt vocal work. 

Backstories are fleshed out just enough to avoid tedium, and the film provides solid moments with Doona Bae's Nemesis, Star Nair's Tarak, and Djimon Hounsou's General Titus before we're thrust into a non-stop avalanche of beautifully choreographed battlezone scenes that satiate the senses.

Related: Watch rockin' new trailer for Zack Snyder's 'Rebel Moon Part Two: The Scargiver' (video)

Djimon Hounsou as General Titus in "Rebel Moon." (Image credit: Netflix)

Since both halves of "Rebel Moon" were filmed concurrently, it's not fair to compare one segment to another, but since Snyder convinced Netflix to allow it, that's what we've been given to debate. I was admittedly a bit harsh in my initial review of "Part One: A Child of Fire" back in December; I wasn't prepared for its cold tone of brutality. Perhaps it was all the holiday cheer, eggnog, and jingle bells that distracted me when it arrived a few days before Christmas, but upon a recent second screening right before watching "Part Two," I noticed the sophisticated nuances of color, the interplay of light, superb shot framing and Tom Holkenborg's dish-rattling score.

Without burdening readers with a scene-by-scene recounting of "The Scargiver," I can offer some sweeping impressions of the visual splendor on display, with its compositional nods to artists Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta and the sci-fi fantasy magazine "Heavy Metal." Where modern genre films might have living humans behind the curtain, few present the type of personal bravado and mastery of craft seen in the vibrant core of Snyder's sequel. This is Snyder at his very best, unrestrained yet fully focused in his filmmaking environment with a crystalline motivation to entertain with an old-fashioned story of good versus evil in a far-off galaxy.

Imperium spaceships attack in "Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver." (Image credit: Netflix)

In between the balletic orgy of full-throttle sci-fi combat during the Battle of Veldt, which spans nearly the full final hour, freeze-frame on any moment and you might find yourself transported to a pop-up gallery of Old Masters paintings. Sift through waves of acrid smoke and linger on a beam of coherent light deflecting off the surface of a stream. Watch splatters of molten orange slag glitter as fiery blades clash. Heat haze and black fumes billow from armored assault ships. Cinema verite-style tracking shots in the trenches intercut with crawling spider tanks erupting in blooms of purging red fire, and Jimmy going scorched Earth in a moment of revelation!

It's all heady stuff, and to witness Snyder operating in pedal-to-the-metal madman mode within his true element is surely a spectacle to behold. It might not be perfection, but "Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver" delivers the jumbo-sized box of Cracker Jack, packed with a bonanza of extra peanuts!

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.