Synopsis: A mysterious force knocks the moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it.
Stars: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, Donald Sutherland
Director: Roland Emmerich
Running Length: 130 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Just this past New Year’s Eve, while much of the globe was out celebrating kicking 2021 to the curb, my partner and I decided to ring in 2022 the correct way: with pizza delivery and a viewing of the 1972 peril-at-sea classic, The Poseidon Adventure. Why? I’m a sucker for a disaster film and the Oscar-nominated blockbuster, conveniently set on December 31 and chock full of memorable scenes and performances, fit the bill perfectly. I can’t quite help myself when presented with a gargantuan film that is hell-bent on pulverizing boats, small towns, big cities, planets, and the like with giant tidal waves, volcanoes, asteroids, earthquakes, or a Geostorm. Though I almost leaned into the Sharknado craze, I realized I had to draw the line somewhere.
That should give you an idea of why I didn’t sweat some of the early bad buzz I heard about legendarily schlocky director Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall. Despite directing the uncharacteristically strong Midway in 2019, Emmerich is back in his safety zone for this big-screen megaton world decimator presenting audiences with a so-bad-it’s-good-for-you cheesy meal that’s light on science but heavy on conspiracy theories and underbaked performances. Throw in special effects that alternate between the polished with the barely finished, and you have yourself a new release that’s ready to divide audiences into two camps. The first will turn their nose up at a project that never sets its sights higher than what it was created to be, which is precisely the kind of movie the second group will gobble up with glee.
Ten years ago, a disaster in space left astronaut Brian Harper (a bland name to match Patrick Wilson’s typically bland performance) cast out from NASA for claiming the catastrophe, which cost a colleague their life, was the result of an attack by a non-human life form. Of course, the only other person up there that could back him up is Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (now there’s a name for you, and Halle Berry makes it count), but she was knocked unconscious when things went haywire. A decade later, Fowler is part of the top brass at NASA while Harper’s life has gone further downhill after a divorce and being ostracized from his troubled child, Sonny (Charlie Plummer, All the Money in the World), who has just been tossed in the slammer for leading police on a high-speed highway chase.
When discredited pseudo-scientist (read: conspiracy theorist) and president of The Megastructurist Club K.C. Houseman (John Bradley, Anna Karenina) begins to confirm his long-held theory the Earth is headed for disaster courtesy of the alien-built Moon, he manages to convince the boozy Harper who in turn teams up with Fowler for a Hail Mary mission to save the planet. While the race is on up in the stars, down on terra firma Emmerich and screenwriters Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser (who also co-composed the score) can’t help but insert completely unnecessary family drama with Sonny speeding Fowler’s child and nanny to the safety of a Colorado bunker while pieces of the Moon and “gravity waves” are wreaking havoc around them.
Anyone going into Moonfall and expecting a high-stakes sci-fi stunner is going to feel let down long before Wilson and Berry achieve liftoff in a decommissioned space shuttle amidst a humungous wall of water threatening to consume the tiny-in-comparison craft. Emmerich always walked a fine line between overselling spectacle and underserving storyline, even at his peak output, and that’s no different here. We can only be thankful that with the pandemic still plaguing the country, the studio heads at Lionsgate likely saw fit to request this come in at a (for Emmerich) trim 130 minutes and not a bloated running time that would keep audiences in the theater any longer than necessary. Of course, that comes at the expense of character development and often tying one complete thought to another. Still, the majority of Moonfall moves at the kind of breakneck speed that almost wills you not to overthink its lack of logic.
Another bit of advantage working in Moonfall’s favor is Wilson’s (Insidious) workmanlike performance as a disgraced astronaut brought back into service at an unlikely juncture. I’ve seen Wilson onstage, and he’s a magnetic performer, but I’ve never found that presence translated to screen in the same way, and that’s certainly true here. Still, that complete lack of personality winds up being a benefit because audiences can divest themselves from getting too attached to anyone…not that Emmerich or his co-screenwriters have put much of anything there to move us to care either way. I lament that Berry (Bruised) continues to be underserved in these types of roles, stuck as the strong female playing second fiddle to males that yield power to her only when they chicken out and can’t take the heat. She’s got a dull ex (Eme Ikwuakor, Concussion, spending the entire film wincing like he has a rock in one of his shoes) and a kid that says, “I love you, mommy,” and doesn’t really seem to mean it.
While researching the movie before writing the review, I had to chuckle that so many searches for Hardy and Moonfall brought up Josh Gad. Hardy’s part feels like a role written with Gad in mind, only to have the actor wind up declining or not be available at the last minute. While he’s far more tolerable than Gad, even his mild engagement can’t create an entirely root-able character for Hardy. Poor Michael Peña (End of Watch) gets the shortest stick of them all, as the new husband of Harper’s ex, a nice guy whose biggest fault seems to be having too much money and resources. Guess what happens to him? The less said about Donald Sutherland’s (Backdraft) pee and you missed it cameo as a shadowy government figure bound to a wheelchair who gives Berry’s character just enough cryptic info before rolling off into the darkness, the better.
I expect a modest amount of success for Emmerich’s terribly silly but mostly harmless outer space jaunt, if only for lack of similar content currently or recently in theaters. If it doesn’t deal with a virus sweeping through the country, audiences tend to go for these types of global world-enders, and for a good reason. They’re escapist in-flight entertainment where you can check your brain at the door and pick it up on your way back to your car. Moonfall absolutely requires this and, like all those in charge of upholding regulations on commercial airlines, please don’t hate it for doing its job.