REVIEW: ‘Moonfall’ is a disaster movie in more ways than one

Abigail Celoria, Assistant Culture Editor

This year brings another addition to director Roland Emmerich’s catalogue of disaster sci-fi movies in “Moonfall.” Known for iconic blockbusters like “Independence Day” “Godzilla” and “The Day After Tomorrow” , Emmerich defines the genre. His films are not necessarily popular for their depth, but rather offer general audiences a fun trip to the cinema. “Moonfall,” however, breaks from this tradition in a not-so-good way. The mediocre entertainment value viewers expect from a film like “Moonfall” runs bone-dry by the end as it struggles under the weight of its own ridiculous stakes.

“Moonfall” begins with, as the title suggests, the discovery that the moon is falling. Some mysterious force pulls it from its orbit pattern onto a collision course with Earth, and it is up to NASA scientist and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) to find a solution. She recruits washed-up astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), her former partner on a mission 10 years prior that the same mysterious force thwarted, and Brian’s new confidante, conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley). Together, they travel to the moon to discover the identity of this force and, in true action movie fashion, blow it up.

The premise is simple enough in itself—there is a disaster threatening the world, and it must be stopped. The three main characters have the knowledge and experience to get the job done. At face value, it is not set up to be the greatest film, but it has the elements necessary to entertain. However, Emmerich throws this potential out the window about midway through the movie with the film’s nosedive into absurdity.

The sci-fi element of the film is first introduced in KC’s conspiracy theories revolving around the moon. These appear to be true early on with the presence of the unexplainable nanorobot villain and the moon’s falling in general. When this is confirmed upon the three’s arrival on the moon, the audience is not surprised. However, it is when Brian is essentially beamed up and given special knowledge as to the moon’s origins that things get weird. All of the subtle mysteries that made the film interesting up to that point—who made the moon and the nanorobot villain, essentially—is crushed by blunt exposition.

The answers are not satisfying, either. They are Band-Aid reasonings, slapped over the audience’s questions to pretend as though they had been thought about from the beginning. The complete lack of originality and subtlety in them, not to mention the throwaway way that the information is revealed, makes this new twist feel completely unearned. The same feeling bleeds into the events that follow as a direct result of this.

The sudden flood of information is not the shock Emmerich thought it would be, but only jars the audience into confusion and disinterest. Inflating the stakes in the middle of the climax does nothing when it is only more of the same tension from earlier. Jo, Brian and KC are not in any more danger than they were before, but the movie acts as though that is what the audience should think. It is all so forced that the only appropriate response is an eye roll.

Speaking of forced, that is also exactly how the secondary plotline feels for the entire film’s duration. “Moonfall” is not only about the mission, but how the moon’s fall progressively affects life on Earth. For such a significant part of a disaster, though, Emmerich does not put much energy toward emphasizing it.

The film spends a good portion of the first half introducing important figures in the main threesome’s lives—exes, children, and parents—in what seems like an attempt to flesh them out. However, when they head for the moon, the perspective switches between the three’s mission and the efforts of those they left behind to stay alive. Brian’s ex-wife, their children and her new husband, as well as Jo’s young son and his teenage caretaker make up this ragtag cast.

While this might seem like a smart choice on paper, Emmerich did not build enough intrigue around them on their own for the audience to have a reason to care. The issue is not that Brian and Jo don’t share screen time with their respective families, but that not enough of it is dedicated to this layer of the plot. They only have enough time to exchange a few lines before moving on to the next task. The film suffers from this pacing problem in general, but this is where the audience truly feels its negative effects. Their split from the main three leaves them pointless and therefore a good portion of the film uninteresting.

Their connection to one another is a stretch, as well, with Brian’s son Sonny (Charlie Plummer), Jo’s son, and his caretaker joining to search for safety after watching the crew’s liftoff. When their initial plans go awry, they reunite with the rest of Brian’s family and struggle to find shelter. Their scenes devolve into shoddy action past this point, complete with an incomprehensible car chase. It is the only feasible use for them after Emmerich spent so little time developing them. Still, they manage to contribute nothing to the stakes. After watching them defy logic and physics again and again, the audience eventually stops holding its breath.

The fact that these side characters are meant to be representative of how the rest of Earth is faring in this disaster is likely the most insulting part of the film. The main plotline, while absurd, at least presents some sense of urgency. However, these characters conquer obstacle after obstacle without suffering any harm. These logic-defying outcomes only damage the film’s integrity in the viewer’s eyes. What is the point of a disaster movie if the disaster doesn’t actually do anything? That almost everyone in the cast survives this event exposes “Moonfall” as the careless, inconsistent film it is. Only one death occurs by the end, and it is almost laughable with how random it is.

Focusing on these side characters makes the entire film feel like a personal moment for the main three, rather than choosing the smart option of zooming out on the world to see how it is being affected. This would have given the stakes some weight, but Emmerich chose spectacle over sense.

The opening of “Moonfall” seems to offer a movie that isn’t great, but something worth the watch before reality sets in midway through. It is at least entertaining in the sense that it is something to laugh at, but even this is not enough to move past the antsy boredom audiences are likely to feel by the end.