2022 | PG-13 | starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Charlie Plummer, Michael Pena | directed by Roland Emmerich | 2 hrs 10 mins |
Roland Emmerich is one of those directors that buzzes around like an occasionally annoying child but poses no real threat. I have too much engrained affection for the fun of Independence Day, the camp of Godzilla, the lunacy of The Day After Tomorrow and he made the better of the two white house siege movies in White House Down to go full in on Emmerich’s attempts to keep disaster-porn in the public consciousness. It’s three of Emmerichs’ favorite tropes repackaged and re-assembled into one film: an outsized world-ending disaster, an elaborate conspiracy and split up families with divorced dads trying to reconcile with their kids. It’s Moonfall.
The moon has fallen out of it’s orbit, which will send it orbiting closer and closer to Earth until our gravity breaks it up into chunks and sends those crashing into the planet. The head of NASA immediately bails, tossing the keys of NASA to former space pilot Jo Fowler (Halle Berry, seriously, she’s in this movie) to put together a skeleton crew to launch into space and stop it. The only people seemingly interested in saving the Earth is a conspiracy theorist who believes the moon is an alien mecha-structure, Dr. Houseman (John Bradley, Game of Thrones) and a disgraced former astronaut, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson).
If there is anything that defines Roland Emmerich movies, it’s not his disaster fetish, it’s his global conspiracies. From Area 51 in Independence Day to his tale that William Shakespeare was a fraud in Anonymous to the luxury arcs for the rich in 2012, Emmerich is one of few mainstream directors who indulges in these wonderful, anti-government stories. Moonfall however is his most slapdash, half-assed effort yet, quickly racing from one half baked idea to the next half-baked idea to a conclusion that is so undercooked it’s raw (to keep the metaphor up). He goes through the motions here, defining characters out of family failure, hoping we care about all Berry and Wilson’s characters because they want to see their kids and Bradley’s because he loves his mother. He continues his trope of the wicked step-dad, regularly killing these characters off without a second thought to get the leads back together (2012 still stands as the most cruel example of this). But in Moonfall Emmerich doesn’t even seem to care all that much about the disaster and sci-fi elements either, sprinting through ever page of the script just to get it over with. That said, the ending is the best part. Emmerich continues his streak of wrapping up the action by promoting catchy ethereal pop songs.
Nothing is well thought out here and the stories don’t click together cohesively. Bradley’s conspiracy theorist scientist is the first to discover the moon is out of orbit but without any story consequence because NASA discovers and releases the information before he gets the word out. He convinces Harper of the truth, but that doesn’t matter because he already has history with Fowler who is on the inside and is going to ask for his help anyway. In the third act when Houseman and his friends have been proven more than right down to every detail (nobody can think that’s a spoiler), and the crew is literally inside a mecha-structure, Harper is still making dismissive cracks that they “smoke a lot of pot”. These are the seams showing in a script that was written by committee and never read through. “We need a joke here”, even if it doesn’t make sense.
Bradley is not at fault here, he’s in a comic relief role that has no comic lines to deliver. In a better movie he’s in the Nick Frost role, a reminder of how much better a Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright take on this premise would have been and how good The World’s End was. This movie feels small, with a strangely small cast (the President of the United States nor any other global officials don’t play roles) and their action takes place on small under-populated sets. Our only look at the grand scale disaster action is in massive CGI animated sequences of buildings being torn apart. Compare this movie to the first Independence Day. In a better version of this movie our character’s storylines would work in parallel to the worldwide disaster. We would follow the characters so we could get a relatable, ground-level view of the true horror of what it would be like to be in the middle of the action. On the streets with panicked people. For it’s flaws Independence Day does this very well, something recent blockbusters have blown past for increasingly detached spectacle.
Moonfall is two movies in one, both of which would have conflicting tones and it makes exactly the wrong call for each. The premise of the Moon falling into the Earth, like asteroid movies, is truly horrific. The movie takes this very lightly and doesn’t have the scope or vision to show how people would react to the end of the world beyond the usually Hollywood answer: people are animals and can only riot! The 2nd half, the sci-fi explanation, is absurd and the movie treats it seriously. Leaving the film in this weird middle ground where it isn’t serious enough to be thrilling and isn’t absurd enough to be fun. As silly as some of his past movies have been Emmerich – particularly partnered with Dean Devlin – knew how to spin it into fun. Devlin for his part hit the disaster camp button more clearly with the almost so-bad-it’s-good Geostorm more recently. That film at least had the cheese factor of Gerard Butler as the world’s smartest scientist.
This movie on the other hand is dreary and dower. It’s nonsense, risking a lot knowing that any movie about space is going to be picked apart by nerds on the internet who can’t abide scientific inaccuracies about space. Like Independence Day: Resurgence it also has one hell of a ballsy ending. Once again hanging it all out there, Emmerich delivers an open-ended cliffhanger that makes the assumption we want to see a series of these movies. Yikes.