Moonfall is a bewildering creature. I went into the movie thinking it would be truly awful, a so-bad-it’s-funny piece of trash that I could shred to pieces in my review. In reality, it’s okay, which was confusing. Some parts are so bad it’s funny; some parts are so bad it’s bad; and other parts are actually competent and entertaining.
So, I’ll do my best to give a well-rounded, overly detailed review. Because I’m actually a huge fan of Roland Emmerich. But I’m still going to utterly destroy it at the end of the day (sort of like Emmerich does to the planet). Spoiler warning ahead.
Elements that work surprisingly well:
Let’s start with John Bradley, who plays KC Houseman, a frumpy, lovable conspiracy theorist. This man commits 110% to the role. You’d think the real hero would be Patrick Wilson or Halle Berry, but no, it’s John mother-fricking Bradley. The dude makes you forget you’re watching a glorified B-movie, and Emmerich is smart to give him ample screen-time and a central role.
Another element that works, as in most of Emmerich’s films, is the special effects. For all he lacks in terms of story and character writing, he sure knows how to make a good-looking film. The destruction is nothing less than first-rate, and the space scenes alone are worth viewing on a big screen.
Last thing that he does remarkably well in this film is a plot device that utilizes an accurate (I think?) understanding of physics. It’s the sort of clever idea that I’d expect in a good movie, yet it actually works best in the context of an Emmerich film.
Let’s back up for a second. Essentially, the plot is that the moon is orbiting closer to Earth, hence the name Moonfall. As it gets closer, it starts to exert its own gravitational force, which means that whenever it passes overhead, it has a gravitational pull that counteracts the Earth (again, I think this is a not-unreasonable application of actual physics).
The consequence is that things can fly/float in mid-air. Whether it’s a space shuttle or a tanker truck or a small child, the moon will just pull objects toward it. This gimmick leads to an iconic Emmerich shot, of two characters jumping an impossible distance over a chasm and trusting the moon’s gravity to lift them across. It’s dumb but it’s amazing, and I appreciate that he’s now using physics to justify his iconic ‘they barely make it out alive’ moments.
Elements that are mind-numbingly dull:
One such element is the cast. Apart from John Bradley, the cast is a mixed bag. Nobody is quite phoning it in – actually that would have been funnier, if they were all just campy and over-the-top awful. But they’re all competent, if not spectacular, so really none of them are too memorable. Some of them have their moments, but otherwise they’re just okay.
Another thing is, unironically, the film could have used more destruction. I don’t go to an Emmerich film to see a story, I go to see chaos. He definitely delivers at times, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t object if he replaced some mediocre character development with a city being annihilated.
Lastly, I think some of Patrick Wilson’s dialogue was dubbed over later? Or something was wrong with the audio? Or he just has a weird voice? But it wasn’t laughably bad or even that noticeable, it was just slightly off.
Alright, now on to the fun part.
Elements that are hilariously bad (basically, the plot):
First: Halle Berry’s lines. I’m paraphrasing, but here are some examples: ‘We weren’t prepared for this…’ ‘You’re betraying the American people…’ ‘The sands of the hourglass are falling…’ God bless her for saying her lines with a straight face.
She also gives a super brief speech like the president in Independence Day, which plays like a parody of the president’s speech in Independence Day because it lasts all of 30 seconds. Great stuff.
But now on to the true hero of the film. The plot. We open with Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, and unnamed guy who gets killed. They’re astronauts who get attacked by CGI. Literally, the antagonist is just a CGI cloud of nano particles that swirl and cluster into shapes (and henceforth, I will call it CGI). CGI goes to the moon while Patrick Wilson lands the ship without any working electronics.
Ten years later (I guess CGI works slowly), Patrick Wilson is deemed crazy for suggesting that CGI attacked their ship, while Halle Berry is basically director of NASA. She and her team discover that the moon is orbiting closer to Earth. Also, John Bradley is a conspiracy theorist who discovers the same thing, but he believes the moon is also a megastructure with an engine at its core.
Once the internet learns that the moon is getting closer, the humans of Earth panic. Forget Don’t Look Up. This may not be a realistic or nuanced depiction of people reacting to a galactic threat, but it sure is more entertaining. Emmerich treats us to a fantastic montage of chaos, looting, destruction, and panic. John Bradley goes viral with his conspiracy theories, while NASA sends a spaceship to investigate the moon.
Meanwhile, B-plot with Patrick Wilson’s son and a Lexus dealer. Also, Donald Sutherland shows up for three minutes as an ex-NASA employee who tells Halle Berry the truth about CGI. He does not show up again.
The NASA mission discovers CGI, which destroys the ship. This leads NASA to conclude that CGI is attracted to electronics (??). So they need to send another rocket, but this time, they’ll turn off the electronics when they get closer. They’ll then deploy a probe with working electronics, like bait, to lure CGI away, and then detonate an EMP to destroy it.
And of course, Patrick Wilson will fly it, because he has experience flying without electronics. I think I laughed for a minute straight as they explained all this. Something just snapped. It truly is peak Emmerich absurdity.
Unfortunately, NASA has no more rockets (???), so they go to a museum and use one of the old Apollo shuttles that’s on display. It’s here that we get the best line of the film, an unspoken bit of graffiti on the shuttle: Fuck the Moon. Yes. Amen. What a line. 10/10.
So, they prepare the shuttle for launch, but then an earthquake breaks an engine, and Halle Berry is immediately like ‘everyone go home, we can’t launch’. This is her 30-second Independence Day moment. Then, just after everyone has gone home, John Bradley is like ‘why don’t we use the moon’s gravity to pull us up?’ Which, as I already mentioned, is not a bad idea.
But oh no, all the crew members just got sent home. Who will pilot the ship? Good thing that Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, and John Bradley are all conveniently still there. We then have the most iconic Emmerichian moment in the film, where the spaceship has to outrun a tidal wave, and it’s mind-blowingly dumb but also incredible. This is what I pay to see in an Emmerich film, and he delivers in spades.
Meanwhile, Patrick Wilson’s son, Halle Berry’s son, the Lexus dealer, his wife (I think Patrick Wilson’s ex?), her daughters, and an exchange student are having a Mad Max Snowy Road showdown in Aspen, Colorado. (Yes, it’s as corny and unnecessary as it sounds).
Back in space, our three main heroes have made their way inside the moon, which is indeed a megastructure. It has rings revolving around a central core (sort of like Contact), and it’s a blast watching CGI chase the spaceship through the rings.
Then… Roland Emmerich was like ‘I can make a Christopher Nolan movie too’. So with less than 20 minutes to go, we get the most ridiculous backstory about an advanced space civilization who built an AI and also mega-structures like the moon. But one day, the AI achieved sentience and became CGI, then proceeded to kill the entire civilization, except for our moon, which orbited around Earth and seeded it with DNA for human life.
Also, these benevolent aliens communicate to humans by taking the form of their loved ones (exactly like Contact).
Also, the rings inside the moon actually are fields of produce, because it’s a habitat.
Another point of confusion. Apparently, CGI is attracted to electronics and biological life. So… when it first entered our solar system, why didn’t it instead attack the Earth? The characters literally have the same question, and I didn’t understand their explanation. RIP.
And that’s about it. Bradley sacrifices himself to destroy CGI, and the moon’s orbit restabilizes. End with Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry reuniting with the B-plot cast.
Oh yeah, there’s another side plot where some military officials want to nuke the moon, but Halle Berry’s husband is like ‘no’, so they don’t.
And also, John Bradley literally has his consciousness uploaded into the moon.
Rating: Fuck The Moon / 10