Here we are, Moonfall. Roland Emmerich is perhaps best known for being a “visual” director, in that his films often have the special effects as the main characters. Case in point: The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and his most infamous film, 1998’s Godzilla. Despite making a career off of ludicrous premises and outlandish settings, Moonfall has to take the cake for his most insane project yet. So let’s get into it!
The moon is falling out of orbit. Everything is doomed, the seas are rising, gravity is going haywire and science is falling apart. What’s causing this? A mysterious swarm inside the moon that can detect electronics. In order to save the world, a former astronaut, a disgraced astronaut and a conspiracy theorist make a desperate mission to the moon in order to stop the swarm and save the world while learning about the secrets of the moon.
I want to apologize to anyone who knows anything about science. Why are you here? This film is not even remotely close to being accurate. If anything, this film can teach you what’s scientifically wrong! Why would anyone expect anything less from Roland Emmerich, who has played fast and loose with science his whole career? This is the guy that made Day After Tomorrow and 2012 after all.
To call this film stupid is an understatement. A better description would be insane, as the plot goes completely off the rails very quickly. Like Emmerich’s other films, the characters go through insane set pieces (like launching a rocket in the middle of a tsunami with one engine out), while making unintelligent choices such as flying a plane towards the aforementioned tsunami. Meanwhile, the opposition to the leads are the only ones with worse plans than the heroes, like trying to nuke the moon, an idea so ludicrous that even the heroes realize how dumb it is! This is not helped by the dialogue which is very on-the-nose and just sounds ridiculous almost as if they didn’t read the script aloud before shooting.
In order to understand the true depths of the madness of this film, we have to get to the big plot revelation. So the moon is a megastructure powered by a white dwarf. It was created by ancient humans who once had a spacefaring society until its A.I. betrayed them and started killing everyone. The moon was made to seed a planet with human DNA to allow life to survive. However, the evil A.I. is now trying to finish the job. If this explanation hasn’t left you gobsmacked at its lunacy, then congratulations! Madness has already claimed you! Do I even need to say anything? A normal human brain would probably contemplate all of the reasons that this is ridiculous on its own. What can be said about a plot like this? Well, at least it can be laughed at.
The characters are only slightly better than stock cardboard cut-outs. Like his other works, Emmerich’s characters are not anything more than one-dimensional archetypes, such as the smart but overlooked genius/hero, the ex-lover or the ex’s new lover who is going to die because Hollywood hates that people break up and find new loves. At least this one isn’t made into a jerk before he dies and is given a heroic death. The film manages to succeed in not making me hate anyone with a passion. Our leads, Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry and John Bradley are all likable and put in more effort than the film deserved. In general, the film plays itself straight and it is reflected in the actors' performances which are basically competent. The only exceptions are some of the child actors early on who have some odd lines and awkward deliveries.
Does the story have anything worthwhile? If I had to give it any credit, the villain of the film (the robotic swarm) is a decent antagonist. It has moments where it feels genuinely threatening, mostly early on when we know little about it. In fact, the early mystery of what is going on to the moon is well constructed. This is something that Emmerich has done well in the past, usually fumbling the explanations of his films rather than the initial mystery of what is happening, and he does it in this film as well. Additionally, the world of the film genuinely feels like it is falling apart with looting, people fleeing into whatever safe haven they have (in this film Colorado for some reason) and memorable scenes of destruction that one would expect from this kind of film. The use of messed up gravity in the film lends itself well visually, from the tsunami that is literally floating up, to the many boats that are seen flying around.
Moonfall is an absurd movie. It’s only slightly more insane than expected, but let’s be honest, what was anyone expecting to see? The film takes itself way too seriously, but that only makes how dumb it is stand out even more. It is good for a laugh and that is mostly it. It is the perfect summation of Roland Emmerich’s career: a premise that gets people’s attention, only to get a dumb and poorly thought out plot and archetypes who undergo character arcs from the 1990’s to reach an underwhelming conclusion.