In 2022, Humanity will face the dark side of the Moon.
Three stars. Well, four stars, really, if you’re down with what German filmmaker Roland Emmerich does in his big-budget, big (but midrange) cast, big concept disaster flicks. I think we’re going to get a Roland Emmerich reappraisal soon, and I am here for it — I watched The Day After Tomorrow (2004) yesterday, in the afterglow of Moonfall, and had a real good time of it, and I will hold up his last film, the WWII epic Midway (2019), as a genuinely good war movie.
Midway may be as close to a prestige picture as ol’ Roland the Heedless Movie Director gets, though. Moonfall is made of much pulpier material. The film is based on one of my fave bits of pseudoscientific nonsense, the Hollow Moon Hypothesis, which posits that the moon is a) hollow (as you could probably guess from the name) and sometimes b) actually an alien satellite of unknown origin or purpose. It’s a big, dumb, incredibly fun bit of craziness that is right up there with von Daniken in terms of general nuttiness and appeal. In Moonfall, fringe “scientist” KC Houseman (John Bradley) is a believer, and he’s been quietly swiping scientific data that shows that the Moon’s orbit is degrading — or perhaps changing on purpose. That’s insane, right? But he finds an unlikely ally in the form of disgraced astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), who, a decade back, lost a crew member to something weird that seemed to strike at their space shuttle from out of a lunar crater (don’t @ me, orbital engineers — the science doesn’t matter).
Of course, the moon really is shifting in its orbit, and as that wreaks havoc on tides, the atmosphere, and gravity (again, don’t @ me) and the U.S. government prepares to nuke the moon. But Harper, Houseman, Harper’s old NASA buddy Jocinda ‘Jo’ Fowler (Halle Berry), and a ragtag crew prepare to launch their own mission, swiping the shuttle Endeavour out of a museum to do so. And what they find …
… well, that would be telling, but this is more or less Roland Emmerich’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while I never expected him to delve into the origins of human life, he makes a good fist of it here. A lot of the joy in Moonfall is seeing the kind of high weirdness you find on the dustier shelves of your stranger class of second-hand bookshop up on the big screen, and I’m here for it. The rest comes from seeing great actors keep a straight face while plowing through their sides. In this case, we get Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games (2012), turning up for one single, great scene, and Michael Peña, End of Watch (2012), as the new husband/stepdad to Harper’s now-estranged family. Actually, on reflection, we don’t really get Towering Inferno-style cast of thousands in this thing.
We also don’t get as much of the widescreen urban destruction we’ve become accustomed to with Emmerich, and what we do get comes fairly late in the game. Meanwhile, the focus stays on the guys-on-a-mission plot and the revelations that come once we get to the moon. Maybe down the track, we can talk about that once spoiler season is over.
In the meantime, Moonfall is a good time, especially if you’re a fan of Emmerich’s. I think we hold Roland Emmerich (and, by extension, Dean Devlin) to a higher standard than we might apply to, I don’t know, Marvel movies, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that Emmerich’s work is “better,” I would make a case that he has a stronger authorial voice, and a willingness to go to some genuinely strange places in order to find what he’s after — in the Marvel stable perhaps only James Gunn is comparable. Emmerich’s command of his chosen subgenre is peerless. He knows precisely the kind of movies he’s making: big, silly, appealing, two-fisted, pulpy, sci-fi disaster movies. His tongue is firmly in his cheek, and I suspect that a lot of commentators take his work far more seriously than he does — I took a look back and the arguments over the scientific plausibility of “new Ice Age” epic The Day After Tomorrow and they are embarrassing for all involved bar the makers of the film.
Here, with an alien moon in the sky, such questions of plausibility are meaningless, although if I were gonna get bent out of shape, it’d be over the fact that if your atmosphere is being stripped away, your main problem is not a lack of oxygen but a lack of pressure. Instead, I’ll just say that if you can’t enjoy Night Owl, Catwoman, and Sam Tarly jetting off in a graffiti-scrawled space shuttle to put the moon back in its correct orbit, you may want to direct your attention to a more refined style of cinema.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Travis Johnson