When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that is no longer amóre. That is the falling debris of our most luminescent neighbor in the sky. The moon has inspired countless poems, guided ships across uncharted seas, and warmed the hearts of distant lovers. Yet it no longer feels content to maintain a safe distance anymore. It now wants to make out with our big blue rock and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Or is there?
Science fiction has been known to stretch the imagination of what is possible, while still finding some basis in reality. We got a magnificent example of that last year with the film Dune. This particular story is much closer to home, but also very out of this world. Pun intended.
In Moonfall, directed by Roland Emmerich, Brian Harper(Patrick Wilson) is an astronaut who suffers a career setback after being blamed for a failed space mission that resulted in the death of his crewmate. The only other survivor on that mission is Jo Fowler(Halle Berry) Years later he learns the real cause of the accident is coming from the moon. An intelligent, conspiracy-fueled janitor named KC Houseman(John Bradley) discovers that the moon is quickly approaching Earth; and is also possibly powered by some mysterious energy source. As the moon gets closer to the planet, it begins to rain rocks and boulders across the sky. It also manipulates gravity and raises ocean levels. The entire world becomes littered with huge debris and explosions. The government and military are incapable of finding a solution. It’s up to Brian, Jo, and KC to solve the mystery, stop the moon, and save the world, but first, they need to get to space.
I’ll focus first on what works. Roland Emmerich has tackled several genres, but where he truly excels is the disaster film. The action and set pieces are wonderful. One minute you’re floating through a weird gravity anomaly during a car chase and the next you’re hurling through space trying to dodge asteroids and avoid an enemy attack. He knows how to use CGI to design an amazing environment that he can destroy at just the right time. There are even some moments that reminded me of his film 2012, which I really love. It was the ultimate disaster movie. Moonfall tries to replicate that same energy but falls short for several reasons.
Patrick Wilson is another positive element. He’s charming and charismatic and I could watch him try to solve or argue his way through any situation. His chemistry with Halle Berry and John Bradley isn’t too bad either. Bradley provides much of the humor and emotional beats of the movie. This is strange when you consider there are several children in peril throughout the runtime. This brings us to the problems.
Moonfall was shot during the pandemic and, even with a sizable budget, it looks like it was shot during the pandemic. The entire planet is in danger, but we only ever focus on the United States. It would have been nice if the film took just a minute or two to expand the scope of this world-ending cataclysm to include the actual world. Instead, the environment feels confined. Exterior scenes feel like soundstages with no real connection to the places they pretend to be. And with the number of asteroids and floods destroying Earth, you would think this movie could show us the enormous toll on human life. Nope, we just get some dangerous thieves and a few bystanders here and there.
The story is a little malnourished for most of the film. It’s essentially if Emmerich had directed Melancholia and removed the originality. You get a sizable exposition dump around the last third of the film, which also happens to be the best part. On the way there, you have to wade through some decent action sequences on Earth, but also suffer a lot of family melodrama. I mean a lot. I know the human element of any movie is important for the most part, but unfortunately, the character development is wafer-thin. Luckily the film survives mostly by being carried on Patrick Wilson’s mighty shoulders and John Bradley’s heartwarming personality. The script is just inert. Like a SyFy channel mini-series with lifeless characters. There just isn’t enough humor to balance the harrowing atmosphere. Even a disaster film with science fiction can be a little fun.
Moonfall is a fun experience in spite of itself. I even got some brief, split-second Star Wars vibes near the end. It is plagued by a dour tone, a bad script, and uninspired cinematography; but it still delivers some worthwhile elements for the genre. Almost all my favorite moments are in space or on the moon. I will also say that the music by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker adds something special that wouldn’t be there otherwise. I recommend seeing this in theaters because it may be the only way you’ll be able to focus on the subplots and meander through the first act. Plus the moon at that size is pretty badass.
Synopsis: A strange force sends Earth’s moon on a collision course with the planet. A pair of astronauts and a conspiracy theorist janitor attempt to save the world before total annihilation.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Spenser Cohen, Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
Stars: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Releases: February 4th, 2022 (USA)