The Sky Is Falling!
Roland Emmerich makes big, dumb movies. That is not to knock the fact that the writer/director has seen great success in his career. He had early hits like Universal Soldier and Stargate, that then led to the massive successful Independence Day, and then a string of financially successful follow-ups, like The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. If you want a film with action and explosions while things get blown up real good, you call Emmerich.
Through it all, though, it's pretty clear that Emmerich has a formula. A big, dumb formula. He's very good at directing action and fills the eyes and delights the senses. He has a knack for conveying stories that get you to focus on what's happening without thinking about how dumb it all is. Emmerich is a master of misdirection, an artist (if you want to use the term that way) who can wave something shiny in front of you and say, "hey, look at the pretty explosions," all while some of the dumbest stories every committed to film play in front of you. It's impressive.
That doesn't make is films any less stupid, though. For all its cool ideas, for example, Stargate is a dumb, brash 1990s action film. Independence Day was the most successful movie of 1996 (and, at the time, second most successful film ever) but it's also one of the loud and most insanely stupid films you'll ever watch. Does anyone care? Know, because you have Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum cracking jokes and having a good time while shit blows up really pretty. Sometimes that's all you need, and Emmerich can deliver on that front. He's not always successful (1998's Godzilla is proof of that), but in the right element Emmerich can make shit shine.
Moonfall is the latest big, dumb action film from the master of big, dumb action films. It takes all the elements that Emmerich loves to use -- a ludicrous sci-fi concept, cities getting destroyed, groups of people having to work together for survival, and lots of explosions -- and remixes it all together in some new way. It's not new in that Emmerich has any new ideas, just that the specific story isn't quite like the others he's told before. The threat is ever so slightly different, the solution ever so slightly altered. Once you've seen a few of his films, though, everything about this film will feel all too familiar. Moonfall is Emmerich working to his formula, all of his greatest hits remixed again and again. The fact that it works at all is a testament to the fact that Emmerich really can make stuff look great as everything explodes.
The film begins in 2011 with a shuttle mission in the Earth orbit to repair a satellite. Crew members Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and newcomer Marcus are out fixing the satellite while mission commander Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) worked inside the shuttle, monitoring progress. Things take a turn, though, when an unidentified object (and unidentified substance) blasts through the shuttle. Marcus is lost, Jocinda is knocked out, and Brian has to get back on the shuttle and fly the ship down to Earth, which he successfully does. Unfortunately no one believes his story about what hit the shuttle and he's discharged (with some dishonor) from NASA.
Ten years later, Brian is broke and alone, having split from his wife. He's estranged from his son and just trying to get by doing little speeches on space at whatever place will pay him. However, when the moon suddenly (and impossibly) changes orbit and starts heading towards Earth, Jocinda (now the acting director of NASA) calls Brian back in. Brian, by this point, has already made contact with a crackpot, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), who believes the moon is actually a mega-structure designed by aliens to aid the Earth. As the evidence mounts is seems that Houseman is right... but that there's also an alien presence trying to destroy the Earth via the moon. These three may be the only ones that can possible save the Earth before the moon falls on it.
Let's be clear, Moonfall is an absolutely ludicrous movie. It starts with an alien attack that the government not only covers up but then absolutely doesn't follow up on at all. This alien creature burrows its way, very visibly, into a crater on the moon that faces the Earth, and somehow no one notices that giant bore hole it makes over the course of ten years. And, when it comes time to actually solve the problem, the only people that actually seem to have any plan on what to do with the Earth are the Americans, this despite other countries presumably also having nukes they would have wanted to throw at the big ball of rock. It requires a ton of effort to suspend disbelief over anything in this film, start to finish, just to swallow all the plot points the film spits out.
Beyond that, just to make the film make any logical sense (too late) the movie has to stop at the 30 minute mark and absolutely dump exposition on the audience. "Oh, you want to know why a mega structure is floating above the Earth and what the alien substance wants? Well, let's hit pause on the action and give a lecture on an ancient alien society." I get the impetus to do this, to try and explain, "oh hey, here's why the moon is moon." At the same, time, though, the film was doing just fine being a big dumb movie without any real explanation of anything. It manages to get by with, "lol, shrug, moon be fallin', I guess," such that an actual explanation feels counterproductive. Wait, you want us to actually think about the story of this movie? Please no. When the movie is call "Moonfall" just let the moon fall.
The formula for this film also really starts to grind by the end of the first act. The opening portion of the movie is focused on getting the moon to fall and pushing the important characters (the team going up into space to fight the moon) together. But once the shuttle mission is launched (at the end of the first act, an impressive way to get the story movie) then we have to spend time watching Brian's son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer), and some other people travel across the country. The point is to show the carnage on the planet but the film rushes through all the character beats and moments. People meet, have an issue, and then instantly resolve it over and over again. It's like the film mis bored by the characters, including them because the formula dictates it has to, without having the good sense to simply ignore these boring people and their boring stories.
Where the film sings, though, is when it focuses on its absolutely ridiculous premise. The moon is falling? Sure. Astronauts have to launch to the moon to save the Earth? I'm on board. Carnage happens around them, and the three leads crack jokes the whole time? Heck yes. These three actors -- Bradley, Berry, and Wilson -- have solid charisma together and that, along with just enjoyment of the stupidity on screen, helps to paper over a lot of the worst issues with this film.
Plus, frankly, the film is pretty. Emmerich had a solid $140-ish Mil budget (give or take a few Mil) to make this film and every dollar of that is in the CGI, clearly. This film is a show-stopper and as much as I wouldn't want to watch any of his films in a theater I could see how this movie would sing on the big screen. It looked great on my UHD TV at home, sucking me in to the action and the setting even as I wished all the dumb people that didn't matter would just shut up and let the astronauts do their work.
Moonfall is a bad movie, but one that's made really well. I think if this had been made by some random director I hadn't heard of before I probably would have absolutely hated this film. It's just another stupid disaster movie with a ridiculous premise, and we've seen a ton of those over the years. However, knowing Roland Emmerich was behind it I knew to shut my brain off before I even hit "play". Because of that, I went in willing to buy all of the dumb shit on screen because I knew it was in service of making things blow up real good.
If you're expecting high art then you won't find in anywhere in the same ZIP code as Moonfall. However, if all you want is a big, brash, stupid action movie that you can enjoy for a couple of hours, this film has that. It's not going to show up on anyone's best of lists, and I'm not even sure I'd ever want to watch this film again. For two hours, though, I was entertained.