‘Moonfall’ movie review: Roland Emmerich says “f*** the moon”


The moon suddenly changes its orbit and threatens to collide with Earth in Moonfall, a Roland Emmerich epic that mashes together disaster movie tropes, far-out conspiracy theories, and surprisingly heady science-fiction ideas. This one’s a real deep-dive into everything Emmerich, and should satisfy anyone going into the movie with expectations of over-the-top action from the director of Independence Day, 10,000 B.C., and 2012.

Moonfall opens in outer space with astronauts Jocinda Fowl (Halle Berry) and Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) on a mission to repair a satellite. As Wilson’s character tends to the satellite with another astronaut played by an actor not among the film’s top-billed cast, we know exactly what will happen: tragedy strikes in the form of some kind of space debris coming from the nearby moon.

Around a decade later, NASA makes an alarming discovery: the moon has shifted orbit, and is now on course to strike the Earth… within weeks. Its director (played by Stephen Bogaert) throws his hands up in the air and quits his post to spend what remaining time he has with his family… and so does most of the rest of the space agency.

That leaves Berry’s Fowl as acting NASA director, giving her and a couple remaining desk jockeys (Chris Sandiford and Jonathan Maxwell Silver) to come up with a plan to save the world… before the United States military nukes the moon as a last resort. Conveniently, Fowl’s ex-husband Doug Davidson (Eme Ikwuakor) happens to be a high-ranking commander with one of the keys needed to launch the bombs.

Meanwhile, Moonfall’s resident conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed doctor KC Houseman (John Bradley) has come to the same conclusion as NASA. But he knows something Earth’s scientists don’t: that the moon is actually a megastructure – a Death Star-like artificial structure – and that its path can somehow be fixed.

Wilson’s Harper, meanwhile, is a now-disgraced former astronaut who took the blame for the earlier moon-related tragedy. Ex-wife Brenda (Carolina Bartczak) has married a used-car salesman (Michael Peña), while his teenage son (Charlie Plummer) has just been arrested for leading L.A. police on a high-speed chase.

Houseman comes to Harper because he’s the only person who will listen to him, and Berry visits her ex-partner because he’s the only one with the space navigation skills to pull off her plan. And the three chart a course to save the world… and the people they love who live on it.

Moonfall is, of course, incredibly silly stuff, with the fate of the world in the hands of these three characters and science that won’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. And it’s packed with the director’s usual flair for images of mass destruction: L.A. gets flooded early on, and later there’s a particularly tasteless shot New York skyscrapers being struck by moon debris, though One World Trade Center is mercifully spared (on-screen, at least; from where the top half of the Chrysler Building ends up, we can assume New York as a whole is done for.)

But while the first two acts of Moonfall play out in expected disaster movie fashion, the third act takes a big deep-dive into science-fiction territory. It’s a big ask for an audience that has gone along for the cheap thrills to stop and watch ten minutes of pure exposition that feels like it came from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it’s surprisingly compelling stuff that even retroactively addresses some of the sillier moments from earlier in the movie.

Quibble: intrusive product placement for Elon Musk and SpaceX, name-dropped a few times during the narrative, as well as antivirus company Kaspersky. And the inclusion of a major character, played by Kelly Yu, who is perplexingly ill-defined. Presumably intended as a love interest for Berry’s character, any hint of romance seems to have been scrubbed (most likely in an effort to better appeal to the conservative Chinese market).

Moonfall’s other human relationships, meanwhile, are surprisingly well textured for a Roland Emmerich movie. The reasoned dialogue between characters playing former partners is refreshingly adult, and Sonny’s relationships with both his father and step-father are nicely detailed.

And while Berry and Wilson are perfectly serviceable leads for this kind of thing, it’s Bradley (Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones) who steals the show, taking a typically one-dimensional Emmerich character and imbuing him with a resonant emotional undercurrent. Brief scenes with his character’s mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, are particularly well-wrought.

Moonfall represents director Emmerich at his very peak, and likely his best film since at least 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, but your enjoyment of the movie will depend on your tolerance of some of his goofier narrative devices. Those from both sides of the spectrum, expecting switch-your-brain off fun or a laughable space oddity, should be equally satisfied.



Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

6 Responses

  1. Love this stupid movie. The kind of big budget 90s movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, and Emmerich needed Chinese funding to complete. It helps that filmmakers/screenwriters aren’t pandering to their audience, but are genuinely incompetent themselves.

  2. Are not they in a hurry? Do not they want to find the outpost? Need not Kirk get back to the ship? Yet they sit there, having a talk and barbecue around a log fire.

  3. I also love this goofball movie. Wish these kinds of cheesy 90s disaster movies would come back into vogue.

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