REVIEW: Moonfall (2022)

The problem with Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is not that it is silly; we have all come to terms with the ridiculous nature of his disaster pictures a long time ago. The problem is that it is rather boring. The cataclysmic ‘disaster porn’ that usually acts as his trademark is comparatively fleeting, and it is never well exploited despite plenty of visual potential. Despite some decent actors, there are no interesting characters to match. Moonfall is still entertaining to an extent, but in all fairness it is a pretty limited extent. It is likely most viewers could get their vicarious apocalypse thrills from somewhere else.

Astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) has a near-fatal encounter with an unknown force in Earth’s orbit, one that does result in the death of a colleague and permanently destroys his NASA career. More than a decade later, Brian is unwillingly dragged back into action with conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) and NASA’s acting director Jo Fowler (Halle Berry), when the moon inexplicably starts plummeting towards the Earth.

There is no point looking for scientific accuracy in an Emmerich picture: it is simply not a consideration in his gaudy, effects-filled blockbusters. That is honestly not a criticism. Emmerich’s films have been consistent on this front, establishing time and time again that logic and believability take a distant second place to visual spectacle and national monuments getting destroyed. By this stage of his career – following Independence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Godzilla (1998), and 2012 (2009) – Emmerich’s audience are well aware of what they are likely to see. That Moonfall disappoints is unrelated to its science or story logic, both of which are a nonsense as always. The disappointment comes from nothing of worth being offered in its place. There have been better natural disasters in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. There have been more engaging encounters with alien civilizations in Stargate (1994) and Independence Day. I have enjoyed some of Emmerich’s global disaster films. I have actively disliked others. Hand on heart, this is the first in the set that I found boring.

The cast do their best, with Wilson and Berry in particular showing a strong game face despite the ridiculous premise and plot progression. When they, and token nerd K.C., take off in a rocket to save the world, there is at least some modicum of tension and spectacle. Back on Earth, the film keeps spending time on a perfunctory race for survival among the leads’ combined families. There is a race to escape a dreaded ‘gravity wave’, which is over and done before anything interesting can happen. There is an encounter with a group of looters, which never adds to anything of worth. A major character dies so arbitrarily that his own surviving relatives do not even get the chance to be regretful about it. It is filler: Moonfall spends half of the time going through the motions.

There may be some truth in that. In the past decade or so Emmerich’s films have expanded their focus to include Shakespeare conspiracy in Anonymous (2011), World War II in Midway (2019), straightforward action in White House Down (2013), and queer coming-of-age drama in Stonewall (2015). Moonfall, and Independence Day Resurgence (2016) before it, feels like a retrograde step. I understand the desire to bank goodwill in Hollywood by making commercial product, but at what cost to Emmerich’s development as a filmmaker?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.