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Review: ‘Moonfall’ is exactly the movie you think it is, but worse

Roland Emmerich has definitely made worse movies than Moonfall, but it's comfortably bottom of his disaster epic pile.
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Based on the box office returns brought in by revisionist period drama Anonymous, action blockbuster White House Down, coming-of-age story Stonewall, and World War II epic Midway, audiences aren’t all that interested in seeing Roland Emmerich directing movies where he isn’t required to destroy half of the planet.

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It was inevitable that he’d return to his comfort zone eventually, but sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wishful. The Master of Disaster’s return to the genre that made him famous arrives in theaters tomorrow, but Moonfall has already put forward a strong case to be named as one of 2022’s worst blockbusters. If anything, there’s a distinct possibility that nothing dumber than the sci-fi extravaganza will be seen on a big screen before the end of the year.

The opening scene is promising enough, with Halle Berry’s Jo Fowler and Patrick Wilson’s Bryan Harper on an outer space mission, where they find themselves attacked by a malevolent extraterrestrial force. It’s a fun way to introduce us to Emmerich’s latest insanely high concept adventure, and the conspiracy element is immediately put in play by the government denying all knowledge of any such entity, leaving Harper as washed-up, broke, and a disgrace to NASA.

Unfortunately, Moonfall then grinds to an excruciating halt for the next half an hour, spending far too much time exploring and explaining the backstories of multiple supporting characters you absolutely will not care about in the slightest. Fowler and Harper are both divorcees, with the former’s ex-husband a high-ranking military official in his own right, while the latter’s wayward teenage son ends up in jail, pitting Harper against Michael Peña’s wealthy stepdad in a battle for the youngster’s affections.

This is only notable because they are contractually obligated and legally required to run away from various gravitational forces during the cataclysmic second and third acts, but it’s almost impossible to praise anything that takes the boundlessly charismatic Peña (who replaced the equally watchable Stanley Tucci), and turns him into a dour, one-note bore.

We’re not going to bother giving you the names of any other figures in the story besides Fowler, Harper, and John Bradley’s increasingly-irritating conspiracy theorist and ‘megastructurist’ K. C. Houseman, because it simply doesn’t matter. Speaking of Houseman, he’s a guy in the chair archetype ripped straight from the Big Book of Cliches, and because this is a movie revolving around outer space and astronauts, he does in fact own a cat named Fuzz Aldrin and namedrops Elon Musk more than once.

Admittedly, one of the few pleasures to be derived from Moonfall is watching Berry and Wilson do their best to inject the proceedings with some Acting with a capital ‘A’, despite the laughable dialogue they’re given to work with. At various points throughout, people are actually forced to deliver such zingers as “you’re telling me that the moon is the biggest cover-up in human history?”, “I work for the American people!”, and “everything we thought we knew about the nature of the universe is out the window” with completely straight faces.

Of course, nobody goes into the latest Emmerich joint expecting richly-drawn characters and tightly-plotted, complex webs of intrigue, but the filmmaker leans hard into his reputation above all else when it comes to the signature set pieces. You’ve seen virtually all of these beats before in Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, where they were fresher, more exciting, and better executed.

Moonfall should realistically live and die on the strength of its pyrotechnics when the plot is nonsense of the highest and most inexplicably convoluted order, but Emmerich gives off the distinct vibe of an aging rocker content to spend the remainder of their career playing their greatest hits in perpetuity, living in constant fear that introducing anything from a new album into the set list would be met with resounding boos.

Visually, Moonfall is often very nice to look at, and Emmerich certainly hasn’t lost his penchant for framing the spectacular, but it’s hard to imagine even his most ardent fans falling in love with his latest feature in a capacity that isn’t ironic.

The escalation within the context of the apocalypse is all over the place, too, with the tedious family drama instantly smash-cutting to the literal Moon hovering on the horizon in an ominous, almost disarmingly funny fashion that’s not dissimilar to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers peeking out from behind a strategically-placed shrub at their next victim, albeit if they were natural orbiting satellites as opposed to mask-wearing serial killers.

As the story dictates, though, the Moon is not an orbiting natural satellite at all. It is in fact a hollow, artificial creation that houses a mysterious and powerful core. The first two acts of Moonfall are spent building towards the major reveal of what’s actually inside, and when it comes, it’s perhaps the single weakest and most crushingly dull moment of the entire 130-minute running time.

Emmerich gives us nearly two hours of ratcheting insanity, only to slam on the brakes at the worst possible moment to dive into a long, long, long expository scene that effectively answers all of the burning questions we had about how in the hell this is all supposed to tie together via a single flashback-laden monologue, and it’s awful.

Even more egregious is the blatant sequel-baiting ending, with Emmerich pulling virtually the exact same trick he did with Independence Day: Resurgence, and there’s a very high probability that Moonfall isn’t going to end up getting a second installment, either.

The single biggest sin committed by the $140 million cosmic caper is that we’re talking about a movie where a down-on-his-luck jobbing astronaut, the acting director of NASA, and a nerd who offers free bagels at meetings for like-minded conspiracy theorists use a makeshift experimental shuttle (one that literally has the words “f*ck the moon” spray-painted on the side) to mount a full-scale launch on a 28-minute timescale, where only two of the three thrusters are functional, all while a miles-high ‘gravity wave’ closes in, and it’s not even fun in a silly kind of way.

Moonfall is every bit as big, loud and stupid as you'd expect, but Roland Emmerich's latest disaster epic is also an unforgivably dull slog.

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Scott Campbell
News, reviews, interviews. To paraphrase Keanu Reeves; Words. Lots of words.
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