If you thought the days of batshit crazy big, bombastic, sanity-chewing blockbuster epics were well behind us, then please think again.
Moonfall, steered by the expansively unedited hand of Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) is gloriously unhinged proof positive that there is a great deal of mortally-imperilled life left in the genre yet and that in one film alone, every last trope and cliché exists in bigger-than-life detail, specifically that of a moon which, as it turns out, is not the celestial body we thought it was at all.
But before we get to the ever more out there and yet weirdly imaginatively satisfying explanation for why the moon is a good deal more scarily mysterious than science has led us to believe, Moonfall starts off relatively sedately in 2011 with three astronauts – Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) and an ensign fodder who is there for body count purposes only – happily working on repairing a satellite, unaware (cue portentous music) that doom beckons but a few minutes hence.
Before they know it the crew, joking good-naturedly about the correct lyrics to Toto’s “Africa”, are attacked by a snaking column of metallic nanoparticles which seems intent on laying waste to their shuttle, its actions leaving ensign fodder spinning off into space – bye, and thanks for the narrative-friendly emotional trauma in successive scenes! – and Harper and Fowler barely clinging to life.
Something wickedly alien this way comes but alas no one believes Harper when he says it was a great big space snake and in short order, his life and career is ruined in ways so gloriously cliched that it’s a wonder he isn’t working at a fast food joint to cover rent.
While his wife has left him, taking their son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) with her to a new marriage with Lexus (hurrah for deft product placement; yep, all the subtlety of neon-orange work gear) dealer Tom Lopez (Michael Peña), who also gets an heroic moment in a sprawling epic that doesn’t know when to quit, and he’s no longer an astronaut but an inept laughing stock who might’ve killed his fellow space adventurer aka satellite repairman, he still has his good looks, lavish house and some semblance of a great life.
Wait, sorry, he’s really sad and bitter – actually he’s not but you get the impression he’s kind of supposed to be – and not in the mood to listen to conspiracy theorist K. C. Houseman (John Bradley) who has this cockamamie idea that the moon is hollow, not a moon at all but a Dyson Sphere constructed by an alien presence and out of orbit, on its way to destroy earth.
Yup, totally and completely believable; well, turns out it is because Jocinda, no head of NASA (long story but trust hilariously badly acted), has data that that is in fact what is happening and we’re all doomed, doomed I tell you.
She, of course, being the good, upstanding scientist and all-round impressively well-intentioned person that she is, doesn’t believe in giving up and soon she and Harper and Houseman are a team on their way to save earth from being ripped apart by gravimetric forces beyond its ability to stay cohesively whole.
While things have been considerably lala bananas up to this point in a popcorn-munching way that is weirdly strangely enjoyable in the way that visceral watching destruction on an epic scale always is – disaster films are popular because it gives us the chance to see the worst happen without directly experiencing it, which is always a good thing – it’s after this Emmerich goes pedal to the medal bonkers.
Into the Moonfall stew goes everything from disastrous destruction of cities and mountains by meteors, tsunamis and loss of gravity – it comes and it goes, along with oxygen and any hint of scientific credibility – to miraculous survival by people who somehow don’t die over and over to, and this is a kicker, the moon coming so close to earth that it’s possible once everything and everyone has saved – not a spoiler; if you didn’t think this was where everything was heading to, you clearly were not paying attention – for Harper and Fowler too effectively parachute planetside.
That’s not all, folks; we have aliens and megastructures and the military doing dumb, shortsighted things – let’s just say the US military likely didn’t not cooperate on this particular film – impossible escapes, gruesome deaths, and a narrative so over the top in its convenient use and then non-use of certain key elements (like say, gravity) that you are well advised not to try to make any sense out of it.
Nope, do not engage your brain for that way lies madness and a sense of blockbuster silliness that will likely cause your brain to explode.
For all that however, and it s a LOT including dialogue so terrible at times it will likely be used in film schools for time immemorial going forward on how not write the stuff – at one point, Berry is forced to utter “I’m working for the American people! And you’re keeping them in the dark!” which trust us sounds way better in print than it does being uttered – Moonfall is hilariously, unexpectedly enjoyable.
Somehow this love child of every disaster and alien movie ever made, which firmly believes that more tropes and clichés, smothered on in gloriously demented abandon is never enough, is a riot of fun to sit through.
Yes, your head will snap with whiplash at every inconsistent twist and turn in the story, at characterisation so cardboard cutout-ish that it’s testament to Wilson, Houseman and Berry in particular that they manage to salvage any dignity at all out of it, and you will laugh at the idea of anyone surviving the moon sliding cheek-by-jowl, literally in fact, to the earth, but you will, if you’re prepared to suspend all credibility with the gung-go of a NASA scientist or megastructurist, have a ball with a film that doesn’t have an off switch and which keeps tossing in all kinds of disparate elements in the hope that something sticks (hopefully not the moon because that’s bad).
It’s almost impossible to explain how Moonfall manages to be so bad it’s good because by every law in the universe, which the film routinely breaks with a giddy je ne sais quoi pretty much all the time, it should just be BAD, but somehow the camaraderie between Wilson, Berry and Bradley and the kind of escapist over-the-topness we all need now when reality is somehow worse than a disaster flick, rescues it just enough to make it inexplicably, enjoyable watchable.
It will not stand the test of time, hell it’s unlikely it survived the test of a single cinema session, but Moonfall is a guilty pleasure of a film, a delicious throwing together of a thousand-and-one weirdly disparate elements that almost immediately surrenders credibility, dignity and common sense to the gaping maw of mindless entertainment, and yet somehow emerges with something that is somehow watchable in defiance of every good and holy thing out there and which may just be the film you need to escape a reality that is out Emmerich-ing the man himself right now.