If we were to consider Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon series for Netflix akin to the Lord of the Rings trilogy – a comparison Snyder’s first movie in the series would render utterly laughable – then this second movie would be The Two Towers, the movie that’s geared toward the epic battle of Helm’s Deep. Still laughing at that comparison? Maybe it’s time to stop. By focusing the action on one location and cutting out a lot of excess fat and tedious exposition, Snyder has almost gotten this series on track with Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver.


This critic is as surprised as you are. Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire was the worst movie of 2023, and it wasn’t even particularly close. Movies made at the same time should be cut from the same cloth, since they have a virtually identical production team and most importantly, the same director of questionable vision and execution overseeing them both. It would be wrong to say that A Child of Fire ultimately did good work in setting things up for the action of Scargiver, because we don’t have a greater sense of investment in these characters as a result of that slog. Rather, the greater sense of investment emerges in this movie itself, due to the perhaps random good fortune of Snyder following his better instincts rather than his worse ones.

A capable and commendably brief recap of the first movie by Anthony Hopkins, who plays a robot named Jimmy as well as providing this voiceover, tells us all we need to know to prepare for a movie that will take place entirely on the planet of Veldt and in a spaceship steadily approaching it. Veldt is the farming planet that the evil empire known as the Motherland is trying to exploit, desirous of the grain necessary to feed their soldiers even if it will leave the planet utterly without sustenance.

A former Motherland cast-off named Cora (Sofia Boutella) gathered a team to defend the planet against the Motherland’s return in the first movie, and she thought she had killed its most sadistic admiral, Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), in a climactic showdown in that film. But he’s been revived by various tubes and liquid goos with only the scar she gave him on his chest remaining, and he’s on the warpath to return to Veldt to finish what he started – and finish her.

While watching very little happen in terms of action for the first hour of Scargiver, you toy with the idea that Snyder is failing by providing too little where in the first film he provided too much. The thing is, most people know a fantasy/sci-fi epic isn’t good because it gives you people shooting lasers at each other at ten-minute intervals. It’s good because it establishes characters and creates stakes, and when the fireworks come, they feel earned. In that respect, is Scargiver actually … good?


I’ll risk my much-cherished critical credibility by saying yes. While Snyder rushed to meet the needs of his various narrative beats in the first film, he sacrificed character development – and yet still failed to meet the needs of his narrative beats. Here, he has devoted fully half the movie to living with the characters on Veldt as they integrate into the possibly too idyllic farming culture, take some room to breathe, and finally ramp up toward the coming conflict via weapons training and strategising. The pace works and you don’t miss the fireworks, because they will indeed be coming.

During this passage, characters who had almost no screen time in the first film despite their clearly designated important role in the saga – such as the great general Titus, played by Djimon Hounsou – retroactively get their moment to make a first impression. We also learn more about Cora and her love interest Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), a farmer whose decisions and displays of courage were a tad problematic in the first film. The rest of the seven samurai who were gathered for the first film – yes, Kurosawa is an obvious touchpoint for Snyder, in addition to Star Wars – continue to exist more on the periphery, but comfortably so, rather than by error.


When we see the ominous landing party from the Motherland finally reach the planet, it’s a fairly awesome display of military might, again somehow better than any similar display in A Child of Fire. The instinct is to think these farmers obviously have no chance, but dammit if Snyder doesn’t somehow get us on his page by not only believing their resistance efforts, but cheering them.

This is still Snyder, and a fine-toothed comb will reveal fissures in the filmmaking that you could work open into far bigger holes. For one, we are told there is only a five-day window before the Motherland arrives, during which not only must the farmers reap their grain at speeds that were never believed possible, they also must learn from the imported warriors how to defend themselves. Snyder is playing with fire with creating logistical impossibilities for these characters – remember, you should also be well rested to fight off a superior military foe – but it’s a sign of his overall better success with this project that we grant him the benefit of the doubt.


And while this big second-half battle doesn’t have anything on Helm’s Deep, it has enough clever battle sequences, fisticuffs and sword fights to fully hold a viewer’s attention. (There are laser swords, mostly handled by Doona Bae’s character, in another of the many nods to Star Wars.) You aren’t going to be talking about anything revolutionary, and Snyder still loves slow-mo too much. But you will be entertained.

This was originally supposed to be the last Rebel Moon movie, though if so they must have rewritten the ending because this denouement clearly points toward at least one more. After the first movie, which apparently did well enough with viewers to encourage the third, you would have thought Netflix was throwing away its money on a total turd if it continued to follow Snyder’s “vision.” Now, there’s sort of part of you that wants to know what happens next.


Rebel Moon – Part 2: The Scargiver is currently streaming on Netflix.

6 / 10