Starring: Halle Berry (Bruised), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), John Bradley (Game of Thrones), Michael Peña (Ant-Man), Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World), Kelly Yu (One and a Half Summer), Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games)
Director: Roland Emmerich (Independence Day)
Writers: Roland Emmerich & Harold Kloser (10,000 BC) & Spenser Cohen (Extinction)
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Release Date: 4th February (US, UK)
Synopsis: When Earth’s moon falls out of orbit due to an unknown extraterrestrial threat, a disgraced astronaut must team up with his former partner and the conspiracy theorist who saw it coming to discover the secrets of The Moon before it destroys the planet.
Does anyone really expect a Roland Emmerich film to make anything other than trashy? I say that as someone who thoroughly enjoys trash, but Emmerich’s films can range on the spectrum from good trash (Independence Day, White House Down) to mediocre trash (The Day After Tomorrow, Midway) to just plain trash classic (10,000 BC, Independence Day: Resurgence). The key to his better movies is when their ridiculousness is outmatched by their charm and fun factor, usually thanks to some good casting or a hell of an action set piece, which can make it easier to forgive its weaker elements and just go along for the ride. But what else can the modern master of disaster throw at us at this point? He’s destroyed the earth with aliens, giant monsters, Mayan prophecies and global warming; where else is there to go? Well…how about the whole bloody moon? It’s an immediately tantalising premise that promises action, suspense and utter stupidity, but can it overcome that threshold to be considered good trash? The short answer: no. In fact, Moonfall falls so far off the Emmerich spectrum that it deserves a category all of its own.
There are many tropes to a Roland Emmerich disaster movie, and Moonfall diligently ticks them all off by the end of its bloated two-hour-plus runtime. It’s got conspiracy theories, divorced parents, government cover-ups, destroyed monuments, noble sacrifices, an incompetent trigger-happy military, nerdy scientists, a kid who hates their parent, the asshole stepparent who turns out to be not so bad; honestly, the rest of this review could just be me reciting the entire checklist. So yeah, Moonfall basically does nothing to innovate on a storytelling level, simply slotting in its preposterous lunar disaster into a stock script that might as well have been written by MadLibs. The film starts pretty high on the insanity scale and just keeps rising as the plot gets progressively more frantic and preposterous, reaching a huge crescendo in the third act as the whys of this cataclysmic event are revealed and even the most generous suspension of disbelief is thrown out the window.
There’s absolutely nothing of substance here on even the barest emotional level, because not only are the stakes so outrageously overblown that you can’t relate to the situation, it’s all so hackneyed and obvious that you know the gist of what’s going to happen three scenes before the characters do. This is absolutely a film designed for those who’ve turned their brain off at the door, but one could only imagine someone finding enjoyment in it if they’d literally never seen a Roland Emmerich film before. Literally, there is absolutely nothing of value here that you couldn’t find a better version of in one of Emmerich’s previous films, and at this point it’s just insulting. The director has been trying to make lighting strike twice ever since Independence Day was such a big hit by rehashing the same formula with slight tweaks, but Moonfall makes Independence Day: Resurgence look original by comparison. At least that film took advantage of its premise and expanded its universe, even if it did so poorly, whilst this is just a rehash of those same decade-old ideas with a bad paint job and an ironic sticker slapped on top.
Another trope of the typical Emmerich film is that they have a cast of thousands and, though Moonfall is certainly on the slimmer side of most of the director’s call sheets, there are still far too many characters and most of them are played by no-name actors so there’s not even cheap recognisability to make you care. The story is mostly split between two or three narratives with characters shifting back and forth between the streams, but our main focal points are Patrick Wilson as disgraced astronaut Brian Harper, Halle Berry as his former partner and NASA higher-up Jo Fowler, and John Bradley as amateur scientist and moon truther K.C. Houseman. Wilson and Berry are true professionals and don’t bat an eyelid at their preposterous situation, but there’s nothing particularly compelling about their characters.
Despite his understandably frustrating situation, Harper comes off as belligerent and kind of unlikable during the first act, whilst Berry is given little to work with other than “I have a son and an ex-husband”. Bradley is saddled with not only much of the exposition but also most of the comic relief, and to his credit he manages not to cross into annoying territory; I can only imagine the horrifying screeching we would have gotten if Josh Gad has remained in the part as originally planned. He’s still a pretty pathetic caricature of a nerdy conspiracy theorist, but he at least has a few chuckle-worthy lines and a consistent character arc, and for this movie that’s a lot. Michael Peña is wasted in the role of Harper’s wife’s new husband, Charlie Plummer is pretty flat and disposable as his son, Kelly Yu gets the one genuinely on-purpose funny joke as the nanny to Fowler’s son, and Donald Sutherland is only here for one pointless scene of exposition and then disappears from the movie. C’mon, if you’re going to hire Donald Sutherland, give him a good line or a memorable death or something; anything!
With a budget of $146 million, Moonfall is apparently one of the most expensive independently-funded movies ever made, and it’s clear that the money is on screen. Bar some occasionally dodgy compositing, it absolutely looks just as polished and professional as any Hollywood blockbuster. However, looking expensive doesn’t mean looking good, because in terms of imagination Moonfall looks incredibly plain. The whole production is just awash in dull, pale colours and bog standard design choices, and anything that doesn’t look boring is a visual idea stolen from another movie (e.g. the evil swarm that moves and forms shapes eerily similar to the Sentinels from the Matrix movies). The cinematography is bland, the costumes are bland, the sets are bland, and even the music is, you guessed it, bland. At least there’s some cool action sequences to make up for it all, right? Honestly…no. Again, there is absolutely nothing here you haven’t seen before, and the movie doesn’t even really take advantage of the possibilities of what the moon falling out of orbit and cracking to pieces could do. Really, it’s just a bunch of the usual natural disaster beats with characters running away from tidal waves or earthquakes or whatever, and then occasionally the oxygen levels drop and the gravity goes a bit wonky. That’s it.
Moonfall is mind-numbingly dumb by even Roland Emmerich’s standards, and it’s simply nowhere near entertaining enough to make up for its ridiculousness. It really does feel like a movie made by an AI trained on previous Emmerich films, chucking in every cliché and the kitchen sink too in his most shameless attempt yet to repeat the success of Independence Day. 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. What else really needs to be said at this point? Moon fall, movie bad, ‘nuff said.
FINAL VERDICT: 2/10