He blew up the world in Independence Day. Then, he blew up the world in 2012. Now, director Roland Emmerich is back to blow up both the world and the moon in Moonfall, a science fiction disaster film where the moon is knocked out of orbit by an unknown force. As city-sized chunks of the moon hurtle toward Earth, two astronauts work with a conspiracy theorist to save the world from a catastrophic fate. Emmerich is a pioneer of the disaster genre specializing in a type of film we don’t see too often. This back-to-basics thriller succeeds in its less-than-lofty ambitions with an excellent amount of pure destruction.
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Movies with world-ending stakes mixed with popcorn entertainment are generally reserved for the superhero genre, but disaster movies have always been on another level. In 2020, we got Greenland, a serious take on a planet-killing event, and more recently, Don’t Look Up was an apocalyptic film that used its story for a satirical look at America’s response to climate change. This time, Emmerich successfully tells an original tale of global destruction with absurdity and fun.
This is the type of movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. A $140 million budget going to a non-IP film does not happen too often in a cinematic climate defined by franchises and remakes, but this is a ’90s disaster movie in the vein of Armageddon and Deep Impact. When was the last time you saw a group of astronauts take a rocket to the stars to save the world? Because when done right, those movies can be a hell of a time, and this is one of those films.
The film’s opening sequence introduces us to Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry), two astronauts in space with a work couple dynamic. They debate the lyrics of Toto’s “Africa” before their spaceship is breached. Years later, Harper’s relationship with NASA has been soiled by the event; he is estranged from his family and cannot pay off his rent, on the verge of being evicted. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley) discovers the moon is out of orbit, while NASA uncovers the same finding.
As the story progresses, the film goes down more and more preposterous routes, as the film recontextualizes two minutes of radio silence during Apollo 11 and introduces an organism of artificial intelligence. This film has many original ideas, especially in the final act. While the explanations may lose some audience members in their sheer audacity, there are bold creative choices wrapped in a mainstream blockbuster. Harper has a good amount of characterization in his relationship with his son. Furthermore, the writers made a wise choice to have Harper and Fowler in space while also showing their families’ journey of survival on Earth, balancing both storylines in tension and action.
This is a consistently investing disaster thriller where the characters are always put in bigger and crazier situations. The film is visually massive with incredible spectacle and thrills, and the characters are set up in ways that increase the film’s stakes. Don’t get me wrong; Moonfall is undoubtedly unrealistic and requires a complete suspension of disbelief to be enjoyed, but the film is action-packed and a perfect fit for the big screen experience. While the film’s attempts at an emotional core feel familiar and are ultimately ineffective, there are enough explosions, blasts, and gravitational tomfoolery to fill up this monumental blockbuster.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Moonfall review.