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Moonfall Movie Review

Moonfall (2022) movie poster Moonfall

Theatrical Release: February 4, 2022

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen

Cast: Halle Berry (Jocinda "Jo" Fowler), Patrick Wilson (Brian Harper), John Bradley (K.C. Houseman), Michael Peña (Tom Lopez), Charlie Plummer (Sonny Harper), Kelly Yu (Michelle), Eme Ikwuakor (General Doug Davidson), Carolina Bartczak (Brenda Lopez), Kathleen Fee (Elaine Houseman), Donald Sutherland (Holdenfield)

Ten years after the apocalypse that his 2009 movie 2012 foretold failed to come to fruition, writer-director Roland Emmerich lives and continues to make disaster movies.
If Emmerich has learned anything in the quarter-century since his Independence Day became one of the highest grossing works of all time, it doesn’t make it onto the screen in Moonfall, his latest and most likely worst film to date.

The business has changed dramatically since Emmerich first made waves in Hollywood in the 1990s, but Emmerich has not. He’s still sinking big money into movies loaded with visual effects and intended to carry global appeal. It’s hard to see any appeal, however, in the mindless Moonfall, its disaster hedging upon scientific mumbo jumbo that makes Armageddon look like an MIT astrophysicist's Master’s thesis.

The movie opens in 2011, with Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) debating over the lyrics of Toto’s “Africa” while tinkering in outer space. They are astronauts soon to lose a colleague and, not long after, their respect after NASA contests their claims of an incident it chalks up to human error.

Jumping ahead to the present day, Wilson’s character is divorced and disgraced, unable to pay rent or to show up to to speak on Astronaut Day on time. That event is disrupted by aspiring NASA genius and actual fast food drive-thru employee K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) sharing his crackpot theories on "macrostructures" to the dumbfounded kids.

Of course, this being a Roland Emmerich movie, the loony, portly Brit is exactly right and he discovers our moon has changed the course of the orbit it has maintained for billions of years. The discovery raises all kinds of alarm at NASA, with Harper and his now trusted sidekick Houseman called in and enlisted to help somehow stop the moon from falling into earth and wiping out humanity.

The orbital changes are already having dramatic effects on our planet, as gravity goes wonky, waves soar and crash, debris fall, and Emmerich subjects us to more of the expensive destruction encountered in most of his most famous movies. As usual, the director, who shares screenplay credit with his 10,0000 B.C. and 2012 co-scribe Harald Closer (talk about a multi-millennial collaboration!) and Spenser Cohen (Extinction), tries to put some human faces on the large-scale peril, focusing per usual on families, namely parents and children. (More compellingly, there is also K.C.'s cat, named Fuzz Aldrin.)

It’s amazing that these same elements from this same filmmaker were found in by far the biggest movie attraction of 1996.
Was Emmerich a more graceful storyteller back then? It doesn’t seem like it. Were we all just so blown away by the visual effects of Independence Day, the timeless intrigue of alien invasion, and the comic charisma of Will Smith that we just didn’t mind the hokiness present in that blockbuster?

Whatever the case may have been, Emmerich’s old tricks are decidedly not cutting it in 2022. Sure there’s some dazzling technical wizardry on display. But that’s far from the novelty it once was. And it’s not nearly enough to make us accept the farcical ideas presented as science fiction and ludicrous exposition by actors you’d feel bad for if they weren’t getting paid handsomely to perform this garbage.

About the only positive quality you can find in Emmerich’s cinema is its lack of branding. The director followed up ID4 with his first foray into licensed IP, 1998’s Godzilla, a movie for which he was lambasted by critics quite rightfully. Apart from 2016’s untimely Independence Day: Resurgence, still a fascinating case study into how not to sequelize a landmark blockbuster, Emmerich has opted to have his big budget cinema be original creations not based on existing works. Which would be admirable if Emmerich’s creative shortcomings were not so glaring and risible.

It's interesting to imagine the kind of internal debate that goes on for actors like Wilson, Academy Award winner Berry, Michael Peña, and Donald Sutherland as they weigh the pros and cons of appearing in a Roland Emmerich movie. On the one hand, it pays well and will reach a large audience around the globe, something all of them have experienced before. On the other, they’re becoming the faces of a movie that is undeniably bad. Everyone who sees it and considers cinema more than just a technical art form will think slightly less of them for making it.

The one actor who probably had no such debate to weigh was Bradley, who as the film’s incessant comic relief is kind of the star of the whole thing (or at worst, second fiddle to the VFX) and who most moviegoers will not recognize from anything else. His character is like if Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry had gotten to break good and save Jurassic Park. I already regret comparing this awful excuse of a movie to one of the all-time great sci-fi classics even tangentially.

Moonfall makes it hard to want to save moviegoing from becoming a niche activity.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: ScreamSpider-Man: No Way HomeThe King's Man
From the Directors: Independence Day: Resurgence
Space Stuff: GravityArrivalSkyline

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Reviewed February 4, 2022.

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