Review – Moonfall

by Andrew Roberts.

Roland Emmerich’s films are known for many things. The same stereotyped lead characters (The badass, the leader, the “nerd”), frustration with bureaucracy, but most of all, his films are known for his almost joyous outlook on the spectacle of mass destruction. Independence Day’s most famous image is the destruction of the White House, The Day After Tomorrow, New York City in a new ice age, 2012, the San Andreas Faultline sinking into the Pacific. There’s a reason Emmerich is known as the “master of disaster”, a moniker that is rightfully suited to his particular brand of blockbuster filmmaking. And now he’s back, and somehow, he’s found a way to outdo all of his other disasters. He’s bringing the Moon to Earth, and it won’t go down without a fight.

Moonfall, much like his other disaster films, is a gleefully silly blockbuster that absolutely revels in its wanton destruction and an “I don’t really care” factor that leads Emmerich to just go all out on just how huge and senseless it can get. But that’s the point. Roland Emmerich doesn’t really care about the intricacies of the story; that’s not a significant factor for him. He cares about two things with his films, the spectacle and the characters, and that’s what makes them work. While Moonfall is a little weak on one of those parts, he makes up for it with the other, playing off a film that’s almost a greatest hits of his disaster movies.

Moonfall isn’t particularly complicated. The Moon is out of typical orbit, sending it into an elliptical movement that will eventually crash into Earth. To curb the military using their typical use of brute force, the second in command of NASA, Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) (the leader), recruits disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) (the badass (or this movie’s form of that)) to undertake a risky mission to the Moon, and with him, Brian brings the man who first discovered the happenings (and conspiracy theorist), Dr KC Houseman (a truly excellent John Bradley) (the “nerd”). The trio works to destroy the mysterious force behind the Moon’s potentially earth-shattering behaviour before it destroys us.

By this point, Emmerich’s got the disaster structure down pat. From the scientist who first discovers the issue being ignored, to the preparation to act, the failure to stop it, only to make a last-ditch effort to save the ones they care about (whether that involves saving the world or just saving their family). Structurally, the film pretty much singshitting all of the beats it needs to, every moment perfectly played because Emmerich practically wrote the playbook for the modern disaster film. That doesn’t mean the film entirely works on a scriptural level, though. It can be a little rough a times, the dialogue, funky, the character arcs, underdeveloped, the second act does sometimes feel a little padded out, and yet there’s something innately watchable about characters earnestly trying to save the world. The film is constantly referencing back to the goings-on of Brian and Jo’s families on Earth, specifically Brian’s son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer), Jo’s son, Jimmy (Zayn Maloney) and Michelle (Wenwen Yu), an exchange student living with Jo. While the film occasionally cuts from the mission to the Moon at the wrong moments, undercutting the tension of what’s happening there, it keeps the film grounded and human. It’s a compelling reminder of the human element of disaster films, reminding us what the heroes are fighting for, letting the audience into the thoughts and emotional grounding of the three leads, let alone allowing Emmerich to go full blast on his disaster visuals. It doesn’t always work, but Emmerich knows and understands the power of empathy in a disaster film, and he weaponises it accordingly. This makes his films work; for better or worse, Emmerich focuses on the fundamental human element. In all of his exuberant decimation, Emmerich has this sincerity behind his characters, who earnestly take on the job of saving the world (or saving their family). This fundamental human focus that should stick in stark contradiction to the joy he takes in the destruction. Still, he understands it’s the key to making it all work. 

It’s really the third act where the film really comes to life, though. While the second act has its moments, it can feel kind of drawn-out, with the drama feeling a little stagnant and the set pieces becoming fewer and far between. Still, it all synthesises into one hell of a disaster film when the third act comes around. It plays like the greatest hits, the earth-shattering nature of 2012, the race against time in the space of Independence Day, the odd sci-fi ideas of Stargate, all coming together as one explosively wild time. It’s where the film really goes off its rocker, throwing everything in for good measure. It’s not perfect, but balancing the space mission and the survival on Earth is excellent. The spectacle is so exciting to watch, and the heart is so in the right place that as it grows sillier, it’s just innately more exciting and engaging. Emmerich pulls out all the stops. Equipped with 2020s effects, Emmerich can go harder and bigger than ever, and it results in some wildly exciting action; all the while, the emotion of it totally works too. It’s grandiose and excessive, as Emmerich’s direction is wont to do, and it’s terrific fun. Emmerich has never been able quite so dynamic and bombastic, and it’s exciting and at times awe-inducing, just pure unadulterated sci-fi entertainment.

If you go into Moonfall expecting anything more than a gloriously silly yet purely entertaining spectacle, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s not deep, it’s not complex, it’s not thinking about anything more than what is happening on the screen and making sure the audience basks in the glory of its mayhem, and that’s totally okay. It’s a perfect addition to Emmerich’s oeuvre, a bombastic extravaganza of disaster and sci-fi mumbo jumbo, and it does so with absolute delight. It’s far from perfect; it doesn’t worry about logic or reasoning. It only wants to be entertaining, and if you’re on board with Roland Emmerich’s specific brand of explosive spectacle, then Moonfall is a total blast.

Moonfall is in cinemas now

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