The seas have risen, the Earth has split, and the Mayan calendar has brought on the end of days. Meteors have hit, aliens have invaded, and the planet has frozen over – and we’re still only talking about Roland Emmerich’s filmography.
But the disaster director’s latest, “Moonfall,” takes the genre to a scale none have reached before. Step aside, asteroids and meteors – the moon is taking centerstage on a collision course with planet Earth.
With the new year still struggling to find its footing on the big screen, against my better judgment I fully embraced the potential of a massive, action-packed and beautifully idiotic disaster movie to provide some entertaining, and admittedly stupid, theatrical thrills.
Unfortunately, rather than lean into what it really should be – a Big, Dumb Action Movie™ – “Moonfall” takes itself far too seriously, using underdeveloped characters and laughable dialogue to try and explain each ridiculous occurrence.
If the title didn’t give it away, “Moonfall” is about just that. When conspiracy theorist and semi-scientist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) discovers the moon’s orbit is decreasing, the Earth only has three weeks until the celestial bodies collide. Global panic ensues as tides rise and natural disasters become regular occurrences.
An emergency manned mission to the moon yields nothing but tragedy and more questions, as three astronauts and their ship are torn apart by a mysterious, flowing black substance emanating from inside the moon itself. With no answers in sight, the world’s best scientists brace for the worst, but head of NASA Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) refuses to give up that easily. She and disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) team up with Houseman for a last ditch mission to space, launching themselves to the moon.
In between the extraterrestrial theatrics, there’s a less-than-inspiring B-plot taking place on Earth between Fowler and Harper’s children as they navigate the post-apocalyptic planet to find safety in a military bunker.
When a film’s central premise revolves around the moon colliding with Earth and the military wanting to nuke it, there are two ways to proceed. The first involves embracing the lunacy, taking everything to the max, and having some good, silly fun. This is how “Moonfall” was marketed, from its action-packed trailer and cheesy jokes to the sheer absurdity of the film’s Twitter presence. But that’s not the movie we received.
Instead, “Moonfall” took the second path: toning down the fun in exchange for (fake) scientific justification and over-explaining every detail, rather than just going balls to the wall. With all due respect, if I’m already sold on the moon smashing into Earth, I don’t need to know the who, what, when, where and why of it all – I need to see the big rock hit the other big rock, and I need it now. This mindset is best summarized by the critic behind me who openly cackled each time a new concept was explained. Same here, lady, same here.
While “Moonfall” dives into the story by quickly setting the stage, things get particularly messy with a massive third-act plot dump that drops more information in five minutes than the amount shared in the other two hours of the film. Again, I’m not questioning the logic of the film – that would just be silly – but the way it goes about presenting this story and information is extremely flawed.
To make matters worse, between all the action comes incredibly stiff acting across the board. Even talents like Wilson and Berry deliver each line as if it’s their one line in the high school play – it’s so overacted and honestly laughable. The delivery certainly plays a part, but the script they are working with is riddled with clichés that are hard to overcome. Bradley’s comedy is hit or miss – mainly based on the writing, not due to his delivery – but he seems like the only one embracing what the tone of this movie should be. The chemistry between the cast is virtually non-existent, particularly among the secondary characters on Earth.
Please do not read this as a cranky critic bashing an enjoyable film – I was more excited than most for “Moonfall.” But if the chatter exiting my open-to-the-public screening is any indicator, this movie won’t find a happy landing with critics or general moviegoers.
“Moonfall” releases in theaters on February 4, 2022.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.