Is ‘Moonfall’ an Actual Movie, or a Trick Being Played on Audiences?
In space, no one can hear you scream. In cavernous, half-empty IMAX theaters, however, you can definitely hear other people laughing at the unintentional comedy of a truly bad movie set in space, which is as close as we can get to saying that you may want to see Moonfall with an audience, should you feel compelled to see this at all. Covid has robbed filmgoers of so many different pleasures, including the opportunity to collectively gaze in wonder when a truly awful, incoherent mess presents itself for our pleasure, and in such oversized portions. Recommending that someone actually subject themselves to Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi neo-disaster flick, however, is a little like shoving three-month old milk under an unsuspecting person’s nose and inquiring, Does this smell ok? You already know the answer; you just need to share the pain.
This also assumes, of course, that a person consider what they’re seeing unfold on the ginourmous screen in front of them a “movie.” It resembles one, in that pictures are in motion and whatnot. But it does force the question: Is this tale of a disgraced astronaut (Patrick Wilson), his old copilot (Halle Berry) and a conspiracy theorist (Game of Thrones‘ John Bradley) being humanity’s final hope against [checks notes] a falling moon really an elaborate prank being pulled on folks? And if not — if this is actually supposed to be a blockbuster to be consumed by human beings, with eyes, in multiplexes — what year does Emmerich and company thinks this is?
The Independence Day director made a lucrative career in the 1990s and 2000s out of fusing science fiction, action and disaster-movie cliches into one large, loud, indistinguishable lump, and those coughed-up genre hairballs characterized a particular type of Big Dumb Fun involving stars, close-call getaways, lots of special effects and a ridiculous amount of suspended disbelief. (Who can forget the joy of this? Or this? Or this?) Moonfall, to its credit, has the first two qualities in abundance, but in its attempt to resurrect a bygone type of overwhelming, overpowering ooohh-aahhh experience, the crucial third one seems to have been left on the dark side of the movie’s villain. That’d be, yes, the moon — although apparently that big circle in the sky isn’t quite the harmless hunk of rock we thought it was.
The hint comes early, when Wilson’s Brian Harper and Berry’s shuttlemate Jocinda Fowl experience a “space anomaly” that takes the lives of a colleague during a routine satellite fix in orbit. Specifically, they’re attacked by a swarm-like thing that comes out of a crater. No one back home believes them. Ten years later, he’s a pariah, she’s an executive at NASA and the moon, apparently, has shifted its rotation path. It now seems to be working its way closer to Earth, at which point its gravitational pull will wreak havoc on our planet, tsunamis will devastate the coasts, and “city-sized” chunks of the moon will rain down on us as it breaks apart.
The whole thing is discovered by Bradley’s KC Houseman, a basement-dwelling space obsessive who calls his cat Fuzz Aldrin and, when a sticky situation arises, asks, “What would Elon do?” He also runs a blog and contributes to online forums about the existence of aliens, cover-ups, and “mega-structures,” i.e. hollow planets that were built by extraterrestrial tech and are powered by trapped stars. Some pilfered data supports his notion that our moon is not only one such mega-structure, but it’s heading right toward us! Government agencies, scientists and other such eggheads think he’s just another fringe lunatic. Thanks to a series of highly convenient plot turns and a decommissioned graffiti-covered space shuttle found tucked away, Houseman will, along with Harper and Fowl, journey heavenward to confront the moon and find out what’s causing such bad lunar behavior.
And a crackpot shall lead them! Does anyone else besides us think that putting forth a movie in which the conspiracy theorists end up being the voice-of-reason heroes and all of those “experts” are just acting in bad faith and see, they’re the only ones who knew the real truth all along — does Houseman literally swallow a red pill at one point after he discovers his ideas might be correct? Yes, he does! — is a slightly dodgy prospect at this particular moment in time? This questionable, queasy-as-hell notion is give way too much credence for comfort circa 2022, even in a movie in which the central premise involves military officials somberly discussing the best possible options for blowing up the moon. (We’ve been here before.)
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Harper’s troubled teenage son (Charlie Plummer) is outrunning snowstorms, “gravity waves,” and other meteorological catastrophes, along with Fowl’s young son and his exchange-student nanny (Wenwen Yu) in an attempt to get to a bunker in Colorado. The general population goes into a panic every time Emmerich cranks up the volume and cuts to an orb lurking ominously in the background like a slasher-film killer. It’s one of those scenes that eventually gives birth to the movie’s singular moment of transcendentally atrocious bliss, in which a supporting player looks off into the distance, and in the most beautifully ripe line reading, exclaims, “Oh shit, the moon is rising!!!”
The score is Wagnerian, the landmarks are pfft — ID4 blew up the White House and The Day After Tomorrow froze Lady Liberty; this one decapitates the Chrysler Building — and the dialogue, courtesy of Emmerich and screenwriters Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen, is pure Velveeta. And once things take a turn toward the mock-cerebral near the end (the Contact vibes are strong in this one), your tolerance is toast. On the plus side, it is a far funnier movie than the remarkably similar comedy Don’t Look Up, but that should not be taken as a compliment regarding either work. You don’t want to say that Moonfall is the first genuine cine-turkey of 2022. But if the moonboot fits….