The Summer I turned 18, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day was a massive hit, and while I now find it hard to get past that movie’s myriad flaws, at the time I absolutely loved it. Sure, all of the best disaster sequences were in the trailers and after they were done the movie switched gears to a rather predictable humans vs. aliens action story, but for whatever reason I couldn’t get enough and saw it several times in theaters. I remained a bit of a sucker for the director’s brand of increasingly overwrought disaster thrillers going forward, happily shelling out money for Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, all of which suffer from much of the same problems as Independence Day. As we get older though, our tastes can shift, and remembering that those other movies don’t really hold up very well under closer scrutiny, it is with some trepidation that I sat down to watch Emmerich’s latest project, Moonfall.
The story begins in 2011, when astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry), and Alan Marcus (Frank Fiola) are on a shuttle mission to repair a damaged satellite. Of course, being a disaster movie, an ominous tragedy has to strike, and so the trio are attacked by a mysterious swarm, leaving Alan dead, Jocinda unconscious, and Brian alone to return the heavily damaged shuttle to Earth. Doing so initially leads him to being hailed as a hero, but as hearings to investigate the cause of the incident take place and Brian tries to explain what happened, NASA refuses to believe him and instead tries to blame the tragedy on negligence. When Jocinda is unable to defend him, he is fired in disgrace.
10 years later, he is tracked down by conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), who believes that the Moon is actually a megastructure created by alien lifeforms and has also discovered that it’s orbit is actually changing, bringing it closer to Earth. Brian is understandably skeptical at first, but when it is revealed that NASA scientists working under Jocinda have also concluded that the Moon is on a collision course with our planet he quickly becomes a believer. A NASA exploratory mission discovers that the recent change in the Moon’s trajectory is being caused by a swarm of sentient A.I. and so, being reminded of what happened a decade ago, Jocinda calls on Brian to help them fight it in hopes of sending our celestial partner back to its original orbit.
If all of this sounds ridiculous, that’s only the half of it. Without giving anything away I can safely say this is a story I’ve never seen on screen before (though pieces of it do feel reminiscent of Cixin Liu’s much smarter novel The Three-Body Problem). This idea feels like it actually could have been a great movie, if it hadn’t been weighed down with some of Emmerich and company’s usual disaster movie melodrama and some curiously flat acting. Our 3 leads mostly handle the material they’re given well, but the majority of the rest of the cast come off like we should be happy they at least bothered to remember their lines. All of that aside though, there are some truly spectacular visuals throughout, especially whenever the increasingly large Moon ominously appears over the horizon or during the particularly bonkers final act. While the film can’t always be bothered to follow its own logic, things move along at such a fast clip that it’s easy enough to overlook. This particular Moon may be full of cheese, but if you’re willing to turn off your brain and be pulled into its orbit it makes for an entertaining ride, and I guess at least a small part of me is still a sucker for this kind of thing. ★★★
RATED PG-13 FOR VIOLENCE, Disaster Action, Strong Language, and Some Drug Use.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor