Roland Emmerich is no stranger to disaster movies. The German filmmaker has explored “end of the world” scenarios on the big screen several times over the course of his career, in box office hits like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. Emmerich returns to this theme once again with his latest blockbuster effort, Moonfall – although this time, the real disaster is the film itself.
Moonfall starts out promisingly enough. In 2011, NASA astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) encounter an otherworldly swarm that kills one of their crewmates before burrowing beneath the surface of the Moon. When Harper and Fowler return to Earth, their superiors at NASA reject their claims of an extra-terrestrial attack, chalking up the tragedy to negligence on Harper’s part.
10 years later, amateur scientist K. C. Houseman (John Bradley) uses stolen observatory data to discover that the Moon is out of orbit and on a collision course with Earth. Houseman tracks down Harper and shares his findings with the disgraced astronaut, along with his pet theory that the Moon houses a hidden artificial “megastructure” – something he and other conspiracy theorists believe NASA has covered up for decades.
Armed with this knowledge, Harper and Houseman soon form an unlikely partnership with Fowler, now the deputy director of NASA. Together, the trio race to uncover the true nature of the Moon, in the hope that they can return the satellite to its proper orbit before it wipes out all life on the planet.
So far, so fun, right? Except Moonfall isn’t much fun – like, at all.
The film isn’t good enough to be genuinely entertaining, nor bad enough to qualify as a “so bad it’s good” guilty pleasure. Emmerich never fully realises the gloriously over-the-top potential of Moonfall’s premise, and the film often adopts a self-serious tone that belies its bombastic trappings. Even when Moonfall does lighten up, the humour mostly falls flat – each one-liner clearly calculated to play well in trailers, rather than work in the moment.
Much of the blame for this lies with the script by Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen, which cobbles together virtually every sci-fi trope to create an overly familiar, bloated, tonally uneven epic that regularly verges on unintentional self-parody. They haven’t just raided the sci-fi cliché closet, either – they’ve also grafted dystopian thriller elements onto Moonfall’s central alien invasion plot. In that sense, Moonfall feels like two or three different movies stitched together and, sadly, none of those movies are very good.
But is there anything good to say about Moonfall?
Well, for one thing, it’s mildly refreshing to walk into a big budget release that requires none of the prior knowledge needed to comprehend a MCU joint. Moonfall doesn’t require you to do your homework before you arrive – and, frankly, the less you know about anything (particularly astrophysics), the better.