ID4 meets The Day After Tomorrow… perfectly.
After one of the final space shuttle missions goes awry, astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) is scapegoated by NASA for the failure. The only other survivor, astronaut Jocinda Fowl (Halle Berry), was unconscious during the moments Harper claims to have seen an unidentified anomaly causing the accident. Ten years later, the disgrace still haunts Harper, but self-described megastructurist KC Houseman (John Bradley) seeks him out after confirming a dire discovery: the moon’s orbit is inexplicably decaying into a downward spiral toward the Earth. When a desperate fact-seeking mission is lost after efforts to contain the discovery go viral, mass panic ensues across the globe, but there’s still one chance to use what little information they have to save the world… for anyone insane enough to try it.
Writer, producer, and director Roland Emmerich is no stranger to epic sci-fi, from Universal Soldier and the original Stargate to the global success of Independence Day (aka ID4), most often with writer Dean Devlin. He’s had plenty of so-so films as well, from the 1998 Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and the ill-fated ID4 sequel Resurgence. One return to form was Midway, although it suffered from low-quality CGI after being practically self-financed, yet it was easily better than Michael Bay’s abomination Pearl Harbor. With COVID still hamstringing theater releases, it’s the perfect time to throw mid-range films onto screens, and the absurdist Moonfall looks like the kind of popcorn flick that could finally unseat No Way Home for a few weeks… but can it?
No one has ever accused ID4 or Stargate of being strictly plausible, but they are unique in Emmerich’s film pantheon for creating their own fictions — particularly the alien civilization angles — and sticking with their own made-up rules, for better or for worse. This sets up all-too human scenes like a man with a biplane trying to attack a city-sized spacecraft, the ridiculous-yet-cheer-worthy underdog success in the face of certain destruction. Moonfall embraces “temet nosce,” mixing together all the elements of Emmerich’s prior successes into a new recipe that tastes great even if it’s less filling. Focusing on a few character plights while ignoring the obvious deaths of billions, the film bets big on high concept, pure adrenaline, and a literal shot of deus ex machina to stage one hell of a good time.
“Game of Thrones” alumni John Bradley reportedly inherited the part originally slated for Josh Gad, and it feels ready-made for Bradley. He’s the POV character for the audience but with a skill of his own to make him necessary; his cat’s name is howl-worthy. There are of course the usual father/son story issues and estranged parent things going on as standard subplots, a trigger-happy military who thinks blowing things up somehow solves everything, and all the other “oldies but goldies.” What’s interesting is Emmerich recycling some of his ideas from Resurgence that were ill-fitting for ID4 but feel tailor-made for this, especially in where a sequel could go. The lack of background characters as well as a lack of any “corridor full of people about to die” hints at the COVID compliance this production had to endure, but the superior CGI in the final act is light years ahead of Midway’s visual rendering problems.
Nothing is ever perfect in a Roland Emmerich film, so it makes sense not to dwell on details; quick, show something else that’s cool! Following an underweight giant lizard movie starring Ferris Bueller, a disaster film unable to decide which urban legend the Mayan calendar should end on, and an instant ice age flick with more walking than The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s enjoyable falling back on a good ol’ destroy-the-bad-thing-and-we’re-all-saved feature.
Moonfall is rated PG-13 for violence, disaster action, strong language, some drug use, and inexplicably getting away with using more than one f-bomb in a single film.
Four skull recommendation out of four