PLOT: The moon is knocked out of its orbit by an unknown force and placed on a collision course with Earth. Two astronauts and a conspiracy theorist work together to prevent catastrophe and discover the moon is not what it seems.
REVIEW: I watched an interview with Halle Berry, one of the stars of Moonfall, where she calls the film's director, Roland Emmerich, "the master of catastrophe." Truer words have never been spoken. This is the same man who gave us classic disaster movies like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, and turned his brand of mass destruction into something of an art form. Emmerich often strikes the right balance between a silly, funny show and characters that engage enough to carry us through the runtime. Unfortunately, with Moonfall, another world is in danger. Effects: A great performance by the director that took the fun out of it. With the exception of a few awkward lines, Moonfall is never funny or funny enough. The film takes its rather absurd premise seriously, and doubles that seriousness with a climax in the third act that tries to get too cerebral for itself. Emmerich used to be so good at blowing things up and making us laugh, but that suggests he may be losing his touch.
How can a premise like this not be fun in the end? As the title suggests, the moon falls toward the earth, but authors Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen aren't content to consider this a catch. They didn't need much explanation as to why the moon was knocked out of orbit, but they go there with ideas about megastructures and a concept that might be A.I. it had something to do with the actual creation of the moon. Once the movie's story tries to get too complicated, it really goes off the rails and not even special effects stunts can save it from itself.
The film begins in the style of a true disaster film. Astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jocinda "Jo" Fowler (Halle Berry) are on a routine mission with a novice astronaut (Stephen Bogaert) when a mysterious tar-like substance derails their duties and the novice is lost in space. We learn that NASA was quick to cover up what happened, blaming Harper for negligence instead of letting the world know what really happened while they were in space. Harper loses his job, his wife, and becomes estranged from his son. 12 years later, his son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) is now a teenager who has lived a troubled life due to his father's absence, and his wife Brenda (Carolina Bartczak) now has a husband named Tony (a Michael Pena of shockingly little use will) remarry. and has two children with her new husband. Brian essentially feels useless until something clears up in space. The moon has been knocked out of orbit and could collide with the earth in less than 3 weeks. A conspiracy theorist with astronaut ambitions, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) is the first to spot this, but no one is listening. The disaster becomes apparent when Jo gets the call from NASA, and now she needs to bring Brian back into the game to help her figure out what's going on out there. If you suspect it has something to do with that mysterious tar-like substance, you're right.
It's interesting that just yesterday Roland Emmerich criticized Marvel, Star Wars and DC Comics for ruining the industry with their lack of original ideas because Moonfall is such a big cliché from the previous films. There's a bit of Independence Day mixed in with Armageddon, with a sprinkling of The Abyss and a little 2012 as an encore. Perhaps since two of these films are Emmerich's efforts, I can't blame him for copying himself, but he forgot to bring the humor with him.
The film lacks any funny characters, save for the likeable and lovable K.C. by John Bradley. Houseman and the film are full of dramatic clichés. Brian Harper's life just begs for a redemption story, and once we learn that Jo didn't support him following the events of the mission that opens the film, we know she's with him now in dramatic fashion. All of the film's beats are too familiar and lack emotion to make them interesting. With a length of 2 hours and 11 minutes, the film is unfortunately too long for itself. There's no reason to go on for so long. The pacing is even more evident during the film's climax in the third act, which sonically feels like a completely different film than the last.
Given the film's $140 million budget, it's a shame Moonfall's effects don't really let you feel the mess. There are some big impact scenarios, but they all feel neutralized. If you've seen one incoming tidal wave, you've seen them all. The climactic third act, in which the astronauts find out what's really going on with the moon and is contrasted with human history here on Earth, never really gets going because we're not involved with any of the characters. His danger never feels strong enough to worry about. I'd say John Bradley comes closest to evoking our emotions, but then remember, Armageddon was better in 1998.
I imagine this was a paid job for most of the actors, or maybe they just wanted to work with Roland Emmerich. Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry are good leads, but we never really care about their characters. If anything, we only care because they're Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry and we've liked them in much better projects in the past. The aforementioned John Bradley is a highlight, but the rest of the cast does only the bare minimum as the special effects work in circles around him.
I was all for Moonfall because I'm more than ready to watch a stupid disaster movie. The problem is that the film spends too much time explaining its ridiculous plot instead of giving us an exciting experience. Moonfall isn't fun, funny or exciting and I scratched my head that a movie about the moon falling to earth could end up being so utterly generic.