Except for his attempts at recreating history (Stonewall and Midway), Roland Emmerich’s latest releases are getting progressively louder and dumber. Moonfall is not going to break that streak. Emmerich’s desire for epic, disastrous grandeur hasn’t ceased, but his ability to craft characters of interest has. Instead, Emmerich relies on Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, and Samwell Tarly—er John Bradley, to save his movie. And to cut to the chase: they don’t.
Former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) used to be a hero. Now, he adjusts to a world that only knows him as a crank. He acclimatized to living quietly on the margins, but conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) is about to shake up his life. Through hacking and computer wizardry, Houseman realizes that the moon is on a collision course with Earth. Naturally, he takes his findings to social media with #FreeBagels before tracking down Harper.
Wilson and Bradley know which type of movie they’re in and ham it up regularly. Halle Berry isn’t given the same consideration in her lines, however. She has to suffer through rote, emotionally-bereft speeches while Wilson dances to Toto’s “Africa.” As NASA executive and Harper’s former co-pilot, Jo Fowler, Berry must be the adult in the room while Wilson and Bradley constantly crack wise. You would hope for a better supporting cast to save Earth than an internet troll and a former co-worker, but Fowler takes what she can get.
Donald Sutherland is here, Michael Pena too; their roles a far cry from supporting parts given to performers in past ensembles like Quaid and Hirsch in Independence Day. Gifted as Sutherland and Pena are, they exist for throwing around in cars and planes against an avalanche of CGI. The B-storylines need an emotional hook to be worth cutting back to, or it’s a waste of time. Ensembles were a staple of Emmerich’s pictures, but thankfully, he mainly condenses the story to the trio of Wilson, Berry, and Bradley. Given how inert some scenes are if they’re not set in space, he made the right call. It would be asinine to make Moonfall and then spend most of the film in L.A.
Roland Emmerich films used to be big event films. That wasn’t going to last forever, especially once superhero films took over, but the director hasn’t adjusted at all. Content to rest on his laurels, he’s happy to recreate rather than innovate. Large, expensive scenes of mass destruction are commonplace in blockbusters, but if you look close, you will see that most of the action is from other, better Emmerich films. The car driving through a collapsing environment? 2012. Weather catastrophes? The Day After Tomorrow. Even the alien swarm that lives inside the moon resembles Venom.
Most disappointing is that there is little science in this supposed sci-fi. Information isn’t delivered particularly well, but Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen rush it out just before the next scene arrives. There’s very little why to what happens in Moonfall, just Emmerich hammering harder on the spectacle of disaster. The problem is that we are inundated with disasters every day. Braving the theatre to watch another isn’t appealing. As Wilson and Bradley admirably try to add life to the film, actors and script choices elsewhere drag it back down. Emmerich didn’t make Geostorm (that was Dean Devlin), but there are a lot of the same problems. No stakes for the audience to invest emotionally. No modicum of respect for any of the science behind such disasters. There’s not even a mega-ham Gerard Butler performance to distract moviegoers.
Independence Day came out 26-years ago. Somehow, Moonfall has less convincing special effects. When the moon passes over New York, it rips several skyscrapers, flinging them out of the state. The camera finds one car or actor to focus on and follows it throughout the chaos. Each disaster is so similar to the next that the viewers tune out. The real deal-breaker is that so many cities are destroyed during Fowler/Harper/Houseman’s mission that the endgame feels pointless. With so many people dead, you guys may as well start looking for another planet already.
Moonfall is no Independence Day. Hell, it’s not even White House Down. NASA will cut a launch due to ominous-looking clouds, so the idea that you could send a shuttle into space during a tsunami is too insulting for even people willing to turn their brains off. As far as disaster flicks go, Moonfall has a premise straight out of 30 Rock, but none of the fun to go with it. All that’s left is a slog of whirling computer graphics and Emmerich’s album of greatest hits playing as the film comes mercifully to an end.