From the master of disaster himself, Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is the kind of movie to which reviews will neither attract nor deter you. If you found yourself watching the trailers of the moon, well, falling and thought to yourself, “wow, I’ll probably like that,” the odds are you probably will. The movie’s not exactly aiming for the stars – just the moon.
So what is Moonfall? Is it a dumb-fun disaster movie, or perhaps a sci-fi adventure-thriller? Even after watching it from start to finish, it’s hard to pin exactly what Emmerich’s latest is trying to be. An eye-glazing two hours of moon falling content dissolves to mush, creating an identity that is… uniquely confusing.
When an arm-chair scientist and stereotypical Reddit conspiracy theorist (played by John Bradley) discovers that the moon has fallen from orbit, he reaches out to ex-astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) in an attempt to save the planet. When NASA, under the lead of Jo Fowler (Halle Berry), catches on to the impending disaster, it’s all systems go to stop the moon from colliding with Earth.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, that’s not all. The film centers around a massive conspiracy that the moon is, in fact, fake. A megastructure, if you will. Bradley’s character is a caricature who worships Elon Musk and all but listens to Joe Rogan – and is really good at math and rocket science for some reason. On paper, he sounds like a punchline, yet Emmerich instead chooses to use him as an audience surrogate, despite him being the only character who never leaves their megastructurist conspiratory comfort zone.
If one conspiracy wasn’t enough, Brian’s whole personality is defined by his exile from NASA following a mission gone wrong – one where his crew was attacked and injured. Brian claims that it was some form of technological life that attacked his crew, but he was found guilty of negligence and has spent his life searching for redemption – and proof that NASA covered up information that absolved him of responsibility.
If that already sounds like a lot of moving pieces, there’s still more! In classic disaster film fashion, there are a number of human relationships that serve to ground the characters to some kind of personal stakes. Between Jo and her divorced husband, the conspiracist and his aging mother, and Brian and his son and ex-wife, there are a lot of human angles that the film struggles to balance atop the super-scaled cataclysmic disaster-porn.
But… you don’t watch a movie like Moonfall for a well-balanced, thought-out emotional movie. You watch it for cool action set pieces. Things like the brain-boggling notion of the moon falling from the sky and causing mile-high tidal waves to slosh across the world’s continents. Mind-numbingly bad dialogue is to be expected – it’s arguably a plus in the disaster genre – and poor visual effects are almost more entertaining (to mock) than if they were impeccable.
The primary issue, however, is that Moonfall spends its entirety leading up to a certain reveal that far from delivers. It turns a movie that doesn’t care about plot as much as it does spectacle into one that hinges the entire planetary threat into a hallucinatory info dump that’s more egregious than the most indulgent film opening prologues. What’s worse? It doesn’t even lead to any kind of next-level visuals. It’s just… there.
Aliens and artificial intelligence are mentioned throughout Moonfall and are present in the form of the Venom-looking black goo that attacks Brian and company, yet the film (both in writing and visual presentation alike) never makes them feel like heavy, active presences in the story. Instead, aliens are just a causeway to give Patrick Wilson god powers. For some reason. God powers that never do anything all that cool, either!
Moonfall does this a lot. It sets up some narrative thread that makes you think, at the very least, it will lead to a cool set piece, but will instead drag you along half a dozen dialogue scenes hoping you forget about it and jump to an (extremely unnecessary and less interesting) alternate storyline to feed you more of the same fire and smoke pastiche nonsense that fills much of its 120-minute runtime. There are fleeting moments of fun, although they’re never as cool as they should be.
At its end, Moonfall declares itself to be a tale of second chances: a second chance to reconnect with estranged spouses, with sons and daughters, and to rectify ruined reputations. But during its third act, the film makes a number of decisions that heighten the so-called “emotional” stakes while simultaneously degrading the story of a third of its thematic relevance to getting a do-over. It’s particularly frustrating when there’s another obvious direction for Emmerich to take that would fulfill this thematic pay-off.
And of course, just to add to its list of grating traits, a bafflingly stupid final scene teases what could be a Moonfall 2. Either that, or it’s the epitome of this film’s weak sense of punchline and thematic storytelling. I’m not sure which is worse.
It’s sad to say that Moonfall is just exposition with a side of spectacle, though that morsel of CGI goodness will probably be enough for many. If you’re willing to sit through some less than stellar filmmaking to witness some computer-generated moon chunks demolish the continental United States, this is the perfect movie for you.