Moonfall (2022) Review

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The other night I drifted, nice continental drift divide, mountains sit in a line.

Moonfall (2022): 6 out of 10: In 2011, astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), Jo Fowler (Halle Berry), and Alan Marcus (Frank Fiola) embark on a mission to repair a satellite. The mission goes awry when a mysterious swarm of alien technology ambushes them, resulting in the death of Alan and severe damage to the shuttle. Brian manages a perilous return to Earth, but his account of the event is discredited, and he’s subsequently ousted from NASA.

A decade later, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), a conspiracy theorist, discovers that the Moon’s trajectory is shifting ominously closer to Earth. Though NASA realizes the anomaly, it’s K.C. who shares the dire news on social media, causing widespread panic. Jo, now a top official at NASA, leads a mission to uncover the cause of this abnormality, only to face the same menacing swarm that derailed Brian’s mission years earlier.

With the Moon’s unstable orbit leading to catastrophic natural disasters on Earth, the trio of Jo, Brian, and K.C. unravel a deeply buried secret: a cover-up about the true nature of the Moon and its historical connection to Earth’s earliest civilizations. In a race against time, they embark on a daring mission to save humanity from impending doom.

With a twist that redefines mankind’s origin story and challenges our place in the cosmos, “Moonfall” is a almost competent ride that combines good acting, a decent story, and disappointing directing.

The Good

The Good: Moonfall has a lot of elements I like. It has one of my favorite actors (Patrick Wilson), one of my other favorite actors (Halle Berry) and a director who usually brings the goods (Roland Emmerich). Well, Patrick Wilson emerges unscathed.

Patrick Wilson has a couple of scenes near the end where he seems like Paul Newman. Same twinkle in the eye and a wry smile. Admittedly, it is Paul Newman trapped in Irwin Allen’s When Time Ran Out, but still Paul Newman.

Halle Berry has her hair conservatively tied up and wears unflattering jumpsuits or business suits for most of the film. Now there is a voice in my head reminding me that Ms. Berry is fifty-seven years old and she looks incredible for that age. The eye candy (and Chinese pandering) is taken up by Berry’s nanny (Or live in lesbian lover per my head cannon. the movie has some confusing bits, so I had to fill in some blanks) Kelly Yu. Miss Yu is cute enough but the movie’s wardrobe does her no more favors than it did Miss Berry.

I know that pretending Miss Yu and Miss Berry were a couple seems like a cheap thrill, but in reality Moonfall does not make it clear what their relationship actually is. I am only going with nanny because she takes cares of Miss Berry’s son (Zayn Maloney) and has a lame romance subplot with Patrick Wilson’s son played by Charlie Plummer who is clearly taking advantage of the last man on earth clause at the end of the film.

There are some other good standouts in the cast. Donald Sutherland takes an exposition cameo and makes it his own. Michael Pena is handed the bad rich guy our hero’s wife remarried trope (that Director Emmerich so loves) and manages (with some help from the script in all fairness) to turn the thankless role into one of the best drawn characters in the movie and easily the best performance.

Director Emmerich will never be mistaken for an art house director. He is more Paul W. S. Anderson than Paul Thomas Anderson. But like Paul W. S. Anderson, I find even Emmerich’s terrible movies entertaining on some level and sometimes he hits it out of the park (Both Independence Day and 2012 are excellent popcorn films.). Moonfall does not hit it out of the park. Moonfall is at best a single into right field that gets players in scoring position.

As I noted above, Michael Pena gives an impressive performance with a little assist with the script. Spenser Cohen’s script has some really solid sci-fi ideas here that take Moonfall places one would not expect based on the premise. The movie has some guts. This is not The Core. There is a solid foundation here. Longtime Emmerich collaborator Harald Kloser and the director himself add their usual touches to the story that will be all too familiar. But still it’s a solid story and a decent shooting script providing the foundation for a movie that should work.

The Bad

The Bad: I hate to say it, but this is on Emmerich’s shoulders. I should love this film. It has talented actors and a good story (for a disaster film). Moonfall seems to have had a decent budget. It just does not work. It reminds me a little of Cocaine Bear. Another film that when I heard the premise and saw the trailer thought I should go see this in the theater. And by the time I saw it on streaming, I was glad I didn’t.

One issue is the disaster porn. The early stuff with localized tides hitting the California coast is very well done. But something happens around the halfway point of Moonfall. There is just too much CGI. The entire second half of Moonfall is basically a cartoon with the actors superimposed onto the scene like in Tron. In particular, there is one scene where the good alien computer is telling our lead how the bad alien computer destroyed civilization and it is told with what is basically a five minute CGI cut scene. I could practically feel the controller in my hand.

There is so much CGI work that it is clear that Moonfall dealt it out to various companies. So you will have one scene that is excellent state-of-the-art CGI followed by a CGI destruction scene that looks like it was left over footage from 2009’s Knowing. This lack of consistency serves to make the bad special effects look worse than they actually are.

There are plenty of nitpicks for Moonfall. At one point, the moon’s gravity is causing osmotheric dissocation. At another point, it picks up the Chrysler building in New York and deposits it in Colorado. The idea we are going to have survivors after this seems farfetched. (Don’t get me started on my how are the satellite phones working rant.) But these are disaster movie issues. Moonfall suffers form a more serious issue… the comic relief character.

The Ugly

The Ugly: John Bradley managed a BA in acting at some local college in Manchester and, on his first audition, landed one of the few roles in Game of Thrones to last all the seasons. So now he is starring in film… Look, I am sure he is a fine bloke and fat and stupid is just a character he plays. Much like that silly British accent he still uses. But he is in almost every scene in Moonfall and he needs to be sent out the airlock stat.

Now, this is not all Mr. Bradley’s fault. The script seems to load him with some serious baggage. He has a cat, a mother in a nursing home with Alzheimers and he is a vocal Elon Musk fanboy. The Elon stuff, in particular, has aged like milk. It is impressive for a film that just came out to be so tone deaf.

If Mr. Bradley’s occasional thank god for Elon exclamations are not enough to stick a fork in your ear, he is also the conspiracy theory character. Though Mr. Bradley’s character is a janitor with a limited education; he figured the moon was a mega-structure and was coming closer to earth. Apparently, he watched Melancholia as a child and came up with this theory. (You remember Melancholia, right? Lars von Trier film about depression. The middle part of his trilogy with Charlotte Gainsbourg. You know between Antichrist and Nymphomaniac? It was like Downtown Abbey if the moon crashed into earth during the third season. Still not ringing a bell? Kirsten Dunst is topless in it. Yup, that’s the one.)

But Julian, you loved the conspiracy theory/comic relief character in 2012? Yes, I did. Because he was in the film for a limited amount of time and he was Woody Harrelson as the crazy mountain man (doing his best Matthew McConaughey impression) and not some pasty white git.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: I may be too easy on the script above. There is a death of a thousand cuts at play here. At one point, a scientist uses light years as a measurement of time. The hollow moon is supposed to have more gravity than the regular moon (Wouldn’t we have noticed by now?). The script has clearly spent some time in a drawer. Not just the Elon stuff, there is no Space Force in the movie. No matter how you feel about Space Force (they have really cool patches is my current opinion) one would think they would be in the lead if the moon attacked earth.

Moonfall gets a gentleman’s six from me. I liked much of the film but I really cannot see subjecting myself to John Bradley’s character for another hour and a half on a rewatch.

What Moonfall needed was a scene to take it over the top. Perhaps a scene involving a beautiful African American NASA administrator, her Chinese nanny, and a shower? Just spitballing here.

Moonfall has some sort of deal with Kaspersky, which is a Russian based cyber security firm. Talk about aged like milk.
Disaster movies love thier space shuttles. There is graffiti on this one because apparently, when faced with imminent death, the citizens of LA took time out to graffiti the Space Shuttle. Unfortunately, the graffiti is very inconsistent in the special effects shots.
Moonfall does have some nice helicopter shots.
See here is some quality helicopter action.
To Moonfall’s credit, at no point does the moon try to sneak up on any of the characters. So perhaps Emmerich learned his lesson from Godzilla where he had the titular monster play peek-a boo.
Yes, launching in the middle of a tsunami is silly. But this is the kind of silly that Roland Emmerich does well.
Well, this brings me back.
I think we have all been behind this car….
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