Nobody voluntarily chooses to see Moonfall because of the writing. Fun trick: You can cut that sentence off before the word “because,” and it’s still true. The only conceivable reason folks may be interested in seeing writer/director/end-of-the-world-enthusiast Roland Emmerich’s latest bit of disaster escapism is because actual disasters have a tendency to be real bummers. To that end, Moonfall does look like a million bucks! It cost nearly $150 million, so that’s not a great return on investment…
The template for all apocalyptic movies is as follows: It must open with a small but important CGI moment, sashay immediately into a scientist/doctor discovering a phenomenon no one believes, flourish into widespread special effects chaos, and curtsey with a noble sacrifice and decent dose of optimism. Emmerich threw that playbook entirely out the window. That’s because he’s done so many of these that he knows the plan by heart.
Square-jawed astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) is outside doing nebulous space tasks when a murmuration of robots kills his astronaut buddy. Said robo-jerks render his mission leader, Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) unconscious, and then burrow into the moon. Weirdly, nobody on Earth is willing to buy the whole “sentient alien drones murdered my space pal and then gave the lunar surface a new B hole” thing. Brian gets fired. Ten years later, you’re never going to believe what happens…
Conspiracist and self-proclaimed “doctor,” KC Houseman, discovers that the moon’s orbit is changing. He believes this validates his crackpot theory that the Earth is actually orbited by an extraterrestrial megastructure. In real-life, KC would be an incel, QAnoner who loves Elon Musk. That last part does make its way into the movie, so you know the rest is true. KC is reminded of Brian’s wild claims, tracks him down, and begs him to believe that NASA must go the moon and kill the evil intergalactic Roomba living inside it. Sounds like a perfect plan, KC, no notes.
The bonkers cuckoo whackadoodle alien business is actually somewhat fun. The problem is, that constitutes around the smallest portion of the film. To modernize a Mitch Hedberg joke, if the film’s running time was a pie chart of how Americans react to science, the good portion of the film would be the slice marked “responsibly follow it.” A weird amount of the film is spent following Brian’s doofus son as he drives Jocinda’s kid to Colorado. That’s definitely what audiences want to see. Less shots of the moon creating a “gravity wave” that explodifies buildings, more of a charisma-free road trip.
One of the most dizzying parts of Moonfall is how it treats the passage of time. You’ll think you followed someone continuously in real time, and then someone will suggest that many days have passed. The only thing less sensical is the dialogue, which features two all-time lines. You ready? “If the Earth can get a second chance, I think we deserve one too.” And then “Your consciousness has been uploaded to the moon.” Poetry. Just pure poetry.
Blockbuster spectacle epics are big-scale B movies. Laughable dialogue and a complete ignorance of the laws of physics, space, and time are to be expected. Those aren’t sins, they’re just the raisins in our trail mix: We eat around them. But to be boring? To leave Michael Peña on the side? To bring the corpse of Donald Sutherland out for two minutes only? Unforgivable. The last time the moon was involved in pop culture this obnoxious, domestic abuser Ralph Kramden was using it as a threat.
Grade = D
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Allison Wilmore at Vulture says “Throughout the movie, Berry and Wilson deliver lines about how the moon is going to smash into the Earth with the solemn dedication of performers in a revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
Charles Pulliam-Moore at The Verge says “Whenever Moonfall gets too busy with being interesting, it repeatedly stops to introduce multiple thinly-fleshed out characters like Harper’s wayward son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) and Fowler’s military general ex-husband Doug (Eme Ikwuakor), who serve no real purpose other than to deliver stilted lines that pull focus from what audiences actually show up to these sorts of movies to see.”
Jennifer Heaton at Alternative Lens says “Its few fleeting moments of value are mostly unintentional as you find yourself laughing at its sheer impudence, but it’s not even bad in a unique enough way to be enjoyed ironically.”