Even Moonfall ’s striking visuals and grand-scale storytelling can’t save it from its own painful predictability and narrative absurdities.
When it comes to the disaster movie, Roland Emmerich‘s name is one that appears time and time again – and for good reason. The director has brought us some of the most iconic, pioneering films of the genre, from Independence Day to The Day After Tomorrow, with each one taking one more step towards the absurd than the last. However, Moonfall finally proves that there certainly is such a thing as ‘too far’ when it comes to these movies, crafting a film that gets so caught up in its own convoluted narrative that it forgets to make itself exciting or entertaining. It isn’t short on high-scale action sequences or immense visual accomplishments, but even these lack a certain energy as they’re sidelined for the film’s dull and repetitive exposition.
Moonfall imagines a world where our moon is knocked from its orbit and sets itself on a collision course with Earth, bringing a wave of tectonic activity and natural disasters in its wake. In an attempt to avert disaster and prevent the elimination of all life on Earth, acclaimed astronaut Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) teams up with her publicly-disgraced partner Brian (Patrick Wilson) and local conspiracy theorist K.C (John Bradley) on a journey to the moon, where everything they’ve ever believed about our world is turned upside down. And whilst that might seem like an interesting and exciting concept for such a big-budget blockbuster, the film somehow manages to neglect its potential as a thrilling disaster film, opting instead to turn itself into an underdeveloped sci-fi turned family drama. Nobody is buying tickets to Moonfall to get invested in the film’s weak and half-baked subplots about broken marriages and estranged children – they’re buying tickets to see the chaos and turmoil that the film’s apocalyptic premise promises. But for the most part, the film uses its central disaster merely as a backdrop to halfheartedly explore these characters and their one-noted relationships.
There’s no simpler way to say it, but the characters in Moonfall just aren’t interesting. They’re mostly one-dimensional, defined completely by their abilities and their relationships with each other rather than their own individual personalities. The only exception is Patrick Wilson’s Brian, who goes through a journey of self-forgiveness and acceptance throughout the film that actually has moments of genuine resonance and sentimentality, acting as a much-needed break from the absurdity of the main plot. John Bradley’s K.C., however, is one of the most frustrating and unneeded characters that the film could have possibly conjured up. He acts exclusively as the resident ‘expert’, unnecessarily explaining the plot to the audience at every possible step – with a vocabulary that consists almost entirely of “look over here!” and “we’re in danger!”. Not only does it distract from the actual tension of the film, but it insults the intelligence of its audience by assuming that they’re not capable of following the basic story without the characters reminding them what’s happening every other minute. Even for a film that’s intended to be a mindless action showcase, you still need captivating dialogue and an interesting story progression to keep an audience glued to their screens – and Emmerich misfires on almost all accounts here. Moonfall features some truly questionable dialogue, with characters often delivering lines that completely go against their personality and sound completely unnatural. It hinders the development of the characters, and stops us from ever really caring or relating to anybody beyond a surface level.
If you’ve seen the trailer before going into Moonfall, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is a comedy, but that’s not really the case. The characters speak almost exclusively in tiresome quips, but the story itself doesn’t match the same comedic tone that the characters adopt – which leads to these characters feeling completely out of place in this narrative. It’s glaringly obvious that the film can’t decide what tone it’s really going for, with endless jokes interspersed into a story that attempts to make serious commentary on modern science and politics. If Moonfall had just chosen one of these approaches and stuck to it consistently, it could’ve been extremely effective – either as a self-aware comedy or a thrillingly intense drama. By neglecting to do so, the film leaves its multiple different tones constantly in competition with each other, and none of them truly become engaging.
I’m not sure anybody had the highest of expectations for Moonfall, but somehow it still ended up being a pretty big disappointment. And that’s a shame, because buried below several layers of monotonous characters and incessant exposition, there’s potential for a great movie. In fact, there are several fun movies within Moonfall. There’s a thrilling disaster movie, there’s a great family drama, and there’s even a clever satire about the state of modern science – but the film attempts to do way too much, and each one of these threads ends up underdeveloped and poorly constructed. A sizable misfire for Emmerich, but Moonfall proves that the director still has the potential for a few more great disaster flicks, if he’s willing to put his ambition to the side and focus on the grand-scale action that made his early films so accessible.
Moonfall will be released in theaters everywhere on February 4, 2022.
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