It’s been a while since we’ve had a good disaster movie. After 2020, we all collectively lived through one, so that means that someone’s gotta pick up the slack. Enter Roland Emmerich, he might be the modern King of the disaster movie. Whether that’s Independence Day, Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Independence Day: Resurgence, or White House Down, he’s done a lot of movies where the Earth gets savaged. Moonfall is the latest in that lineage of Earth-shattering films. This time, there are aliens in the Moon.
Emmerich directed the film and co-wrote it with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen. It stars Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Kelly Reilly, and has Donald Sutherland in a small role. Brian Harper (Wilson) and Jocinda Fowler (Berry) are astronauts that get attacked by a mysterious alien species in space. One of their fellow astronauts dies in the accident, and Harper is blamed. Fowler doesn’t defend her partner, and he’s disgraced and smeared by NASA. His life goes down the tubes in the ensuing legal battle. KC Houseman (Bradley) is a conspiracy nut who finds out data that the Moon is out of its normal orbit. Turns out, he’s right and the Moon is inhabited by aliens that are throwing it off its orbit.
That’s the basic setup for Moonfall. It’s a pretty simple concept that involves those three characters trying to save the Earth from imminent impact by the Moon. This film lives and dies on the three lead characters, and thankfully, the performers succeed in making them likable and heroic. It’s not the same for others in the film, however.
The Performances In Moonfall
Patrick Wilson exudes leading man energy here. He’s fiery, strong, and carries a good portion of the film. Halle Berry does an equal job of carrying a lot of the more human elements to the film, answering the questions about how a mother juggles her job (to save humanity), her kids, a former relationship, rebuilding a broken friendship, and more.
No matter how good both of them are, John Bradley as KC really steals the movie. Normally the nerdy, scientific, math, conspiracy nut characters get the short end of the stick. The energy that he expels here is palpable. You can feel that Bradley took this role and ran with it. Most of the best laughs in the film are because of people reacting to either the enthusiasm or anxiety that KC has. It’s a nice break from the mostly destructive second and third acts of the film. He also gets the most emotional moments of the film with his mother who’s suffering from dementia, and in the climax.
Outside of the three leads, the rest of the characters don’t fare as well. They just don’t get much to work with, they’re kind of there to move the plot along, and build up the tension. Michael Peña is the best character of the bunch as the step-father to Harper’s son, Sonny. He provides an interesting foil to Harper’s heroics and gets a truly heartbreaking moment as the families of our heroes are trying to stay safe on the Earth. It’s not that the actors are doing particularly poor jobs as the other characters, they just don’t get much to work with. They feel thrown together and just there, so we can cut to them when the action takes a break for the main trio.
Moonfall Just Isn’t A Great Film
Once you get past the main trio and their performances, the film just isn’t great. The aliens in the film are generic and their backstory is even more generic. It gets into the creation of humanity and higher sci-fi concepts, but the end result isn’t a Terminator, it’s a swarm of Nanobots. Despite the Earth being in jeopardy, the stakes never feel that high for the main three characters. They’re never put in any real danger and the Alien swarm is just not that menacing. Part of it is the look, the other part is that it’s only shown destroying stuff once. Outside of that, it’s just flying around in space.
The film also doesn’t really have an antagonist for the audience to root against. There’s a shady NASA Director played by Stephen Bogaert who could have been that, but he’s gone by the time the second act rolls around. The film feels derivative of Independence Day through it all. However, that movie had real stakes, it showed the aliens in a menacing way, and it was buoyed by the supporting characters. KC, while performed brilliantly by John Bradley feels a lot like a geekier version of Randy Quaid‘s character. This movie lacks the charm, and really, the fun, of previous disaster movies from Emmerich. Throughout his career, even the most destructive and deadly of his films had that feel of a summer blockbuster. This one does not.
CGI Effects, Subplots, And Conspiracy Theorists Wet Dream
The film’s CG effects range from good to subpar. In some cases, you can see the fake boats being thrown around in tidal waves as digital creations. in other scenes, mostly the ones in space, they’re much better looking and blend the actors and effects well. Moonfall is at its best when there’s lots of action going on, especially in space. It doesn’t capture that action for very long and has periods where it takes time off for subplots that really shouldn’t exist.
The conspiracy nuts out there will love Moonfall. it gives them a hero to rally behind, and that their crackpot theories might actually be right. The worst comes when the “twist” of the film is revealed and they have to immediately have a character explain it to the audience because it’s so far-fetched. Luckily a lot of the conspiracy plots are thrown aside and it’s just KC who’s really talking about how right he was later in the film.
Moonfall Is Popcorn Matinee Affair Without The Fun
If you’re going to go see Moonfall, turn your brain off, and not in a good way. The less you think about it, the better. From the plot to the side characters, the script, some of the CGI, and the fact that it’s basically the same movie that Roland Emmerich has made before, this one is worth watching because of the main trio of characters, but nothing else. They try their best to keep the movie afloat, but they’re held down by the utter weight of everything else in the film. Moonfall is about the moon falling toward Earth, increasing its gravitational pull, and causing the ultimate destruction of humanity. Watching Moonfall feels a bit like that for the audience.
Moonfall releases in theaters on February 4th, 2022.
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