Movie: Moonfall (2022)

How strange it is that, with studios creating any and all kinds of spectaculars to lure audiences back to theatres, we don’t have many big, loud and stupid sci-fi blockbusters anymore (emphasis on stupid).  Mind you, I always found films like Armageddon laughable, at best.  Today, it is rare for there to even be another entry in the Transformers series, and even those are starting to get a whiff of respectability to them, like that old line about the town whore.

So I was surprised to see Roland Emerich had such a movie in cinemas in 2022.  I was not even aware this existed until I saw the blu-ray for cheap.  Hard to believe a film from the guy behind Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow could have a picture bomb so thoroughly as to be completely off my radar a little more than a year later.

And this movie is such a mess, I’m surprised it didn’t do huge box office.  The premise is the moon is going to crash into the Earth in a few days, after its trajectory was altered by a giant, black, metal, nanobot space snake.  Oh, and that snake has artificial intelligence—as opposed as the intelligence innate to nanobot space snakes in the wild.

The only people who can save the world are Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and John Bradley, as two disgraced astronauts and a conspiracy theory nut, respectively.  I wonder if “respectively” is the right word to use in any sentence with “conspiracy theory nut” in it.  It seems like any word with “respect” in it feels wrong in that context.

At least the film is batshit crazy for about the first half-hour or so.  The stupidity even starts with the corporate logos at the beginning, as they are incorporated into grainy footage of the Apollo 11 mission.  This results in more confusion than I thought possible, as it creates such sensations as flying through the clouds of the Lionsgate logo en route to the moon.

The movie proper starts in 2011, where Berry, Wilson and somebody I can’t be bothered to look up are on a shuttle mission to repair a satellite, while arguing about the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa”.  I remember when that song had a massive and inexplicable resurgence a few years ago, and how I had wished the moon had destroyed the Earth then.  Instead, nanobot snake wrecks havoc, killing that guy whose name I didn’t look up.  I assumed it was outraged because it hates the song “Africa” so much, but a later revelation will prove me wrong.

On their return to Earth, Berry and Wilson are discredited, as part of a massive government cover-up.  What the government doesn’t count on are plucky conspiracy nuts from around the world, such as Bradley, a Brit with a flimsy backstory to explain why he is in America.  His particular weird-ass belief is that the moon is hollow on the inside–an alien construct with a star at its center.  Spoiler alert: everything this doofus believes will turn out be correct.

A decade after the shuttle incident, Bradley is the first person to determine the moon is on a collision course with Earth.  Unable to get through to NASA (his call only gets as far as the gift shop—ho ho), he puts his theory out on the internet.  Soon, every major news outlet makes this their top story, as they do every unconfirmed, superficially batshit theory (*cough*). 

One aspect I love about this development is how people everywhere immediately try to flee to somewhere else.  Unless any of these people have a way of getting off the planet, I don’t think they have considered THE MOON IS GOING TO CRASH INTO THE EARTH.  Nobody—nothing—is going to survive that.  And yet, top government officials and their families are all trying to get to an underground bunker in Colorado. 

About those families: this is an excuse for the movie to try to establish characters the filmmakers think we will care about.  These additional characters include Charlie Plummer as Wilson’s deeply unlikeable eldest son, whom we first see eluding LA police on a televised chase.  Much of the film will follow him in his attempt to get to Colorado, with Berry’s son and nanny.

While the movie fails on the microcosmic scale, with not a single character that mattered to me whether they lived or died, it should at least astonish with large-scale special effects.  Admittedly, I have not previously seen huge waves of water several stories high, reaching up as if trying to touch a moon so close it fills up the entire sky.  But these effects are entirely CGI, and not very impressive at that.  It is hard to believe almost $150 million was spent to make this, much of which was the effects budget.

I also have never before seen solid objects on the ground rise up to meet the moon.  Our only natural satellite (well, the characters in this film used to think it was natural) is surprisingly fickle as to which objects will be affected by its gravity.  In one scene, Plummer and company shelter in a ramshackle shed that remains surprisingly intact, even when the tractor inside of it is being shifted around by the moon.  At one point, the nanny (Kelly Yu) doesn’t appear be impacted by the moon, though it conveniently helps her lift a massive tree off of Plummer.  I guess the moon has chosen to side with our protagonists.

Typical of this kind of thing, a great many people are presumably killed, but we’re only supposed to care about a handful of characters.  I’m not sure why we should care about these particular people, as they often behave selfishly.  In a space scene, somebody avoids an action that would have destroyed the space snake, opting to not sacrifice themselves for the better good.  Among the military bigwigs in the Colorado bunker, one refuses an order that should save the world, and chooses to do so only because his ex-wife is on that space mission. 

That mission is to use a EMP to kill the space snake residing inside the moon.  I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. To get there, Berry has a shuttle removed from where it was suspended from the ceiling of a NASA museum.  With so few days to do anything, I would love to know how they got that down from there.  Also, I assume it was pretty much gutted before going on display, since there wouldn’t be any reason for a fully-functional shuttle to be in a museum.  And yet, a collective effort gets it working again, and up on the launch pad.  That is until Berry suddenly loses hope and announces the launch isn’t going to happen.  I love how the entire crew is already boarding a departing jumbo jet just seconds into her announcement.

Please bear with me for a moment, as there’s a tangent related to the shuttle.  Everybody knows a PG-13 film can only have one F-bomb in it, a rule that has rightly been subjected to much derision.  Apparently, that only applies to when it is spoken, as Bradley uses up the single use early on, but the shuttle has huge graffiti on it saying, “FUCK THE MOON”.  This is very clearly visible in at least two shots. So now we know the MPAA is alright with written F-bombs.

Our intrepid heroes launch their own shuttle, and I can’t even be bothered to care whether or not that is possible.  Worse, this is where the movie loses its momentum and slows to a crawl.  At least the movie had a certain crazy energy up until this point.  After this, it will continue to be batshit, but also so slow as to become tedious.  This is where the dumb fun becomes only dumb.

Even worse, the film will eventually go into what it is thinks is high-minded territory.  It not only fails to channel 2001, no matter how desperately it wants to, but it completely fumbles an attempt at a message.  A character at the end speculates humanity may have been given a second chance.  I bet nobody is going to give Moonfall a second chance.

Dir: Roland Emmerich

Starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley. I like to think Berry, after each time Emmerich yelled “CUT!”, released gales of laughter she had to suppress when spouting this inane dialog.

Watched on blu-ray