Review: ‘Moonfall’ Offers a Ridiculously Fun Time
The disaster film stuns with its creative effects and unbelievable plot.
Let’s get one thing straight: “Moonfall” is a ridiculous movie. From poster promotions featuring various angles of a gigantic moon, to its absolutely wild explanation of what the moon “really is,” to its effective, self-descriptive title, “Moonfall” is a showcase of the dramatic excess that characterizes apocalyptic movies. The film demonstrates what happens when disaster director extraordinaire Roland Emmerich has fun.
I’ve been looking forward to “Moonfall” since I saw the first trailer, which premiered on Sep. 2 with the ominous and hilarious tagline “In the year 2022, the Moon will come to us.” I threw myself into transforming other movies’ posters into “Moonfall” themed designs on PowerPoint, coming up with creations like “tick, tick… MOONFALL!” and earning myself a few retweets from the official “Moonfall” account.
Disaster movies have always evoked a fascinating curiosity for me: each one is a perfect mix of incredibly obvious tropes, manufactured melodrama with surprising heartfelt moments, and — of course — a great big disaster. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the word “MOONFALL” is incredibly fun to type in capital letters.
The plot of “Moonfall” is fairly easy to follow … at first. We meet ex-astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), who was fired years ago after a mysterious incident in space resulted in the death of a coworker. After conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) discovers that the moon is out of orbit, he brings his evidence to Harper, confident that the moon is a megastructure — an artificial creation of aliens. After the information gets out and NASA’s attempts to fix the problem fail, Harper, Houseman and new NASA deputy director Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) travel to the ever-approaching moon to find out what’s really going on. The rest of the movie … well, you need to experience it to believe it.
The disasters in “Moonfall” start off slow — yes, even in a movie where the first scene features an unknown black cloud in space flying toward astronauts, killing one of them by pushing them out into space counts as slow. As the moon approaches, we see flooding in Los Angeles, but it’s a much slower process than what is characteristic of disaster movies: once the main characters get above the waterline, they don’t seem too worried about the potential of being whisked away by water. Much of the big destruction scenes occur as the moon gets closer to earth, from gravity waves that create huge tsunamis to parts of the moon breaking off and hitting skyscrapers.
Where “Moonfall” soars is in its creativity in its disaster scenes. Given the freedom to move beyond regular natural disasters, like tornadoes and earthquakes, the movie showcases characters being lifted up by the gravity of the approaching moon and rapid drops in oxygen on earth. There’s a great quick shot of two scientists escaping the space shuttle launching facility, the strange gravity causing them to bounce into the air as they run to a helicopter. As the moon orbits faster and faster around earth, it picks up large trucks and bits of the ground, which is something I can confidently say I’ve never seen before in a disaster movie. And, I didn’t notice any obvious lapses in CGI, other than a scene at the very end that featured a helicopter, which ironically might be the simplest effect in a movie where the moon constantly looms over the earth.
Partway through the film, I had a peculiar thought: I wanted more earth destruction. Call it catharsis, call it awe, call it my own amazement at spectacles reduced instantly to nothing, but I had felt a little bit let down on that front. There wasn’t much attention given to people on earth other than the main trio’s families, and, apart from a few confrontations and news clips, the movie missed opportunities to display the general social unrest that knowledge of imminent destruction would bring.
However, the absolutely wild twist near the end of the film, where we learn the moon’s backstory, made me forget all of my other complaints. Above all, I watch disaster movies to see something ridiculous, and this development checked that box. I don’t want to spoil it here, but whatever you’re thinking, I guarantee that the movie’s explanation is stranger.
While the characters don’t give much for the audience to chew on, I thought Berry gave an earnest and heartfelt performance as she tried to save her teammates and family. Bradley’s character was also unexpectedly endearing, playing the role of the audience surrogate who is constantly amazed by every development as the moon’s story unravels.
This movie is cliché city. Harper, divorced, runs late for a presentation at the nearby Griffith Observatory. Fowler is divorced as well, and each astronaut has kids they are desperately trying to protect on earth. The government’s last-ditch plan, as it always is in these movies, is to send nuclear weapons to the moon. The product placement in this movie is as exorbitant as everything else, with obvious promotions given to Google and Lexus — the latter of which takes center stage in a car-chase where the camera zooms in on a character pushing a button on the dashboard to help them survive. To me, all of these obvious flaws are a feature of the genre, yet they are entertaining and I was cheering in my seat every time.
Watching “Moonfall,” I realized that what draws me to disaster movies is my search for escapism. The disaster genre allows us to explore that primal fear of the earth turning against us; it’s a way to cope with the thought that our end might come at any moment, dealt by the hand of unfeeling nature. I turn to each of these movies to see something larger-than-life, something that I can laugh at, something ridiculously fun. Disaster movies offer something that is so close to being real, but also so out-of-this world that it can be enjoyed without fear.
Is “Moonfall” a good movie? I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that I had the best time at a matinee screening with my friend in an empty theater at The Nugget Theaters, gleefully pointing out the moon and saying “it’s so BIG!” over and over again. “Moonfall” was not the disaster movie I expected it to be, but it fulfilled expectations I never knew I had. If sequel plans end up shaking out, I’ll be first in line.