IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 130 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
2011; the Space Shuttle Endeavour mission is sent up into space to repair a satellite. However, a mysterious black swarm attacks the mission and kills one of the crew with only Brian Harper and Jocinda “Jo” Fowler, who was knocked out, surviving. Back on Earth, nobody believes Harper’s explanation, human error is blamed, and Harper is fired. Ten years later, conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman, who believes the Moon to be an artificial megastructure, discovers that the Moon’s orbit is getting closer to Earth. Cataclysmic disasters mount and a NASA mission is sent and destroyed. Fowler, now Deputy NASA director, learns that Apollo 11 discovered abnormalities in the Moon, and that a programme called ZX7 had created an EMP to attempt to kill the swarm. And she knows just the man to help her. Now, Harper, Fowler and Houseman must take off to save the world while their friends and family members struggle to survive down below….
Roland Emmerich can’t really talk. When asked last week whether the doomsday film genre has changed in recent years, he replied, “Oh, yes. Because naturally Marvel and DC Comics, and Star Wars, have pretty much taken over. It’s ruining our industry a little bit, because nobody does anything original anymore”. Now that’s a statement I have more than a little sympathy with, though I’d also include Disney in general in there. There’s no doubt that, at least in terms of major motion pictures, new ideas are lacking and superheroes, especially, dominate far too much. This can only be damaging for the cinema as a whole, and I can think back to 40 years, 30 years ago, even 20 years earlier and remember fondly the much wider diversity of offerings that were available for cinemagoers. Yet Emmerich can’t really talk, because he keeps on making variations on the same darn movie in a genre that actually hasn’t changed that much at all except to get ever more ridiculous. For Moonfall, Emmerich, who also co-wrote the script with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen [they apparently spent three years working on this thing which quite frankly seems unbelievable considering how thrown together the screenplay seems], hasn’t really changed his formula at all. In fact you could almost call Moonfall the Portable Emmerich, since much of it plays like a compendium of the situations and archetypes that he loves to repeatedly put in his films. You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about nonsensical so-called science, embarrassing would-be cool dialogue, cheesy inspirational speeches, curiously misused buzzwords, a wrongfully disgraced hero with family issues, a goofy sidekick who’s actually a genius, a light tone that often feels insulting seeing as the world could be ending and millions of people are losing their lives, etc, etc, etc.
So it’s all here, with Emmerich’s Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow especially being raided, but ramped up to greater absurdity. For example, we have two people who have been into space joined by a third person who hasn’t. He doesn’t seem particularly healthy, yet he gets into the space shuttle and lunches into the space with zero training or preparation while the others are happy for him to do this. The crazy thing is, by the time this scene comes around, we’re two thirds of the way through and by now almost except such lunacy. This means that, near the end when destruction is happening all around people and masts and satellites are being destroyed, people being able to call and speak to each other on their phones seems perfectly normal. For the Ancient Aliens fan, the film does explore a particularly bizarre theory; that the moon is actually hollow and an artificial construct. This means that, just when the Emmerichisms are getting a bit tired, we’re thrown into a final act that’s jaw-dropping in its lunacy. All this probably sounds like it makes for great entertainment of the “switch your brain off” variety, and sometimes it is indeed that, but there’s also considerable carelessness to the writing and it feels like the script or the film was cut down. Sentimental moments often seem random and disingenuous. Subplots peter out, perhaps the most notable one involving Harper’s son Charlie. He’s introduced as a tearaway, showing up on TV in a stolen car being pursued and caught by police, but seems fine afterwards and, while we see the first time he’s in court, we don’t see the second time which is where his father gets him off so you’d think it would be more important than the first. And when Houseman says to Harper, “You’re the only one who believed in me”, we’re confused, since on their first meeting he didn’t believe him and had security escort him off the premises. Huh?
Well at least we have a very strong opening shot, as we pull back from the sight of a tiny portion of the Earth visible in sunlight with the Moon behind it to reveal two astronauts working on this satellite. We’re no longer wowed by such shots, but can still be impressed. Unfortunately, Harper then starts singing Toto’s “Africa” and we get some would-be amusing dialogue about the song and wives. Emmerich loves his characters to talk this way, because it’s part of him giving us a good time isn’t it? Except that it often comes across as false or out of place. This black blobby thing comes along and it’s so boring; it may sometimes form tentacles or some kind of plant, but we’ve seen such menaces so many times before. For such an “out there” story, we needed a villain to match, and that’s something that we certainly don’t get here. Anyway, Harper is sacked and we rejoin him ten years later. His wife Brenda has left him but he still has his son Sonny to live with though the latter’s rarely home. He sometimes turns up in classroooms to tell them about space but, in a very odd and largely pointless scene, Houseman pretends to be him and tells the kids that the Moon is built by aliens until Harper shows up, late as probably usual. Why does Houseman do this? The scene where he tries to tell Harper about his discovery that the Moon has been knocked off its orbit is a few minutes after. Harper is mildly annoyed and the scene ends. The first part of the film is often like this, with scenes and parts of scenes seeming as if they’ve been moved about or clumsily edited down, yet we sometimes feel that we’re missing crucial bits! Things do improve, but the film rarely flows particularly well and I’m sure some fan editors could improve on it by reshaping some of the material.
Harper won’t listen to Houseman so Houseman goes public on social media. NASA independently discovers the anomaly and mounts a mission, but the swarm attacks and kills all three crew members after they drop a probe into a very deep artificial hole in the Moon. Things get bad on Earth and Fowler finds out this information about the Apollo 11 expedition where communication stopped for two minutes, and was actually a blackout was to block out inexplicable data, in which the Moon supposedly resonated strongly from the impact of Apollo 11’s jettisoned fuel tank. And she also finds this weapon that had been conveniently prepared back in 1969. There’s another mission about to happen, though we don’t get a launch date or time, and then everyone is suddenly told to go home. She calls in Harper, who doesn’t seem bothered that his old fellow astronaut has risen so high in the ranks while he got the sack, and nobody else seems there except Houseman. They take off towards the Moon and navigate there by using latitude and longitude, which is only used for locations on Earth. The inside of the Moon is rather unimaginative in design, and do we need another otherwordly force which takes the form of humans the person it’s talking to knows? The likes of Mission To Mars and Interstellar seem to be borrowed from, and then there’s the fact that we’re asked to believe that a white dwarf is at the centre of the Moon. White dwarves are stars that are far bigger than the Moon. I know we’re already on very fantastical ground, but that seems like a bit of laziness or silliness too far. At least it’s probably easy for us to like an elaborate flashback montage since it’s basically warning us about a certain scary thing that’s becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world.
The urgency we ought to feel as our heroic trio battle this deadly menace while at the same time relatives and pals are engaging in their own fights against extreme weather and robbers back on Earth is oddly lacking. And the huge amount of CGI results in a mixed bag of visuals. The space and Moon scenes generally look fine. A fairly early flooding sequence seems to have a lot of money spent on it as it looks just great, but by comparison a much shorter meteorite attack just looks like a computer game – though admittedly not as bad as some of the stuff in Emmerich’s previous film Midway which was a solid film except for the really quite shoddy visual effects. Seeing the sea being sucked upwards doesn’t look that realistic but we can admire the concept and when it takes place around a crucial rocket launch things are actually quite exciting. But, even more than before, Emmerich avoids showing human casualties. The relative lack of people could be put down to the film being shot during the Covid pandemic, but surely CGI could have helped on that front? Go to keep it fun and kid friendly, Roland. I suppose. But he goes too far here, and at first I couldn’t think for the life of me why this has got a ’12A’ rating in the UK instead of a ‘PG’, until I realised that studios and the BBFC have transpired to make the ‘PG’ certificate pretty much worthless, meaning that very few new films get it even if it’s appropriate. Virus-forced amendments are probably why a car chase is clearly taking place amidst mainly CG backgrounds and why we seem to have more sets than real outdoor locations. Being the writer on HCF who likes really old movies most, I enjoyed the latter, but many will find it odd and it does give some portions a somewhat claustrophobic feel, which is surely not good in this kind of huge-scaled tail, especially when the human dimension is sorely lacking.
Yes, some decent if not great performers are on display – well, accept for maybe Donald Sutherland as another Mr Exposition type – but they visibly struggle with some of the dialogue, unsure of whether to play it straight or comedic and often settling for a bit of both. “You do know how to start a car right?, “I should warn you, I had my license revoked”, is a typical exchange. While Patrick Wilson does what he can with his bland hero role, Halle Berry noticeably doesn’t seem to have aged, and Michael Pena as Ton, Brenda’s new husband, is disappointingly subdued. it’s John Bradley who can’t help but get most of the attention as Houseman, the typical conspiracy theorist character who of course turns out to be right, though he’s also given some of the most excruciating dialogue to say and his supposedly funny schtick begins to grate after a while. Still, one of his side stories pans out in a rather touching way, and one death in snow moves precisely because we don’t see it. Once again though it’s noticeable how romance seems to be disappearing. Not that long ago we’d have had Charlie and the Chinese girl he likes Michelle share a clinch at the end, at the very least. Yet another depressing sign of the times. And the music score by Thomas Wander and Harold Kloser is so bland and tuneless. But, all in all, I found it hard to really dislike Moonfall. It’s bad in all sorts of ways and doesn’t seem to possess even the most rudimentary brain, yet its idiocy is curiously appealing in a rather innocent fashion.