Disaster movies. What’s there to say about them? At times, they are mindless entertainment with a hint of family drama. Or, they can be the perfect opportunities for filmmakers to explore ethical conflict when it comes to government, humanity, and decision-making. But one thing’s for certain: Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of them.
Roland Emmerich, writer-director of Independence Day (1996), is no stranger to the catastrophe game. He has directed and produced quite a bit of these genre films. From attempting to survive a new ice age (The Day After Tomorrow, 2004) to finding a way to outlive the heating of Earth’s core (2012, 2009), Emmerich’s disaster features all seem to have one thing in common: finding a way to save the world. In his latest, Moonfall (2022), an unknown mysterious force knocks the moon from its orbit, propelling it towards Earth. When two scientists from NASA join forces with a conspiracy theorist to stop the imminent cataclysm, their expedition proves that this mission is considerably more complicated than they ever imagined.
In this 130-minute blockbuster, Emmerich wastes no time within the first five minutes to establish a sense of urgency and intrigue. In the opening sequence, audiences see Jo (Halle Berry), Brian (Patrick Wilson), and a team of other NASA scientists out in space on what appears to be a standard assignment. What starts out as a typical journey full of sweet, colleague banter quickly turns into a disturbing casualty that leads to a global crisis. Unfortunately, the early promises made by the opening sequence of this derivative script are never quite fulfilled throughout the feature. As a result, we’re left with a familiar story that leans too far into the weird and unexplained to leave a lasting impression.
Part of that is due to the way the characters are written and how much time we spend with them in lieu of the space expedition. In short, too much time concentrates on too thinly-developed characters. But that didn’t stop Emmerich from giving them all personal and/or family problems, which were conveniently placed to become emotional lures by the film’s end. There’s Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (Halle Berry), a working mom who is dedicated to her work at NASA. There’s Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), a disgraced and former NASA scientist who is estranged from his son. Then, there’s conspiracy theorist K. C. Houseman (John Bradley). K. C.’s relationship with his grandmother gives him strength to pursue his scientific interests and endeavors by any means necessary.
These characters might have been more interesting were it not for the side-stepping treatment. There is an excruciating amount of time focused on their family members’ survival. Instead, the emphasis could have been on the different perspectives of our three leads and how they might be able to solve the global emergency together. One story is a recycled and an unappealing one. The other, a more compelling story, could have launched this watching experience into a damn good one.
K.C., the known conspiracy theorist for example, has some interesting theories about what’s actually going on with the moon. Of course (and like all disaster movies) there has to be somebody that everyone doesn’t believe. His interactions with Jo and Brian are highlights, while the two leads do everything they can with what they’re given. But in a film with both Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry, John Bradley is the standout who brings abundant charm to his convincing performance. It was simply too difficult to concentrate on a narrative about the underdog, especially when a more convenient one was available.
To be fair, everything in Moonfall is convenient. There is a hint of absurdity imbedded in astonishing moments that made me question the sanity of practically every character. This lazy script tries to do something new but leaves quality behind in the process. Leaning heavily into mediocre explanations but conveniently leaving out details that would have provided more foundation for the route it took, Moonfall is a missed opportunity. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat entertained. That’s mostly due to exceptional work by cinematographer Robby Baumgartner. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but gawk at the beautiful scenery brought on by the Moon’s destruction. Who knew disasters could be so gorgeous? Paired with a chilling score by Thomas Wander and Harald Kloser, I’d say there are things in this film for everyone. It just might take a while to appreciate them given all the distractions.
Check out the trailer for Moonfall (2022) below — in theaters February 4, 2022!