2022, PG-13, 124 min. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Feb. 11, 2022
There is a right and wrong way to make a bad movie. In the right hands, a bad movie – a “bad” movie – is an intoxicating blend of big concepts, bigger effects, and a cast that understands the assignment. Nobody knows this better than director Roland Emmerich, who has used this formula to great success even in films like Day After Tomorrow and 2012. These may be forgettable movies, but they are eminently watchable – high praise in the current media landscape.
But what makes Emmerich’s latest movie so much worse than its predecessors isn’t some grand departure from this theme. No, Moonfall is bad – the wrong kind of bad – because everything in this formula fails to hold up its end of the bargain. The effects are muddled; the supporting cast is terrible. The only thing Moonfall delivers on is the big ideas, but by the time the movie begins to layer in the sci-fi absurdity, the film is already three-quarters of the way home.
For the curious: In Moonfall, disgraced astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson) is called back into service when scientists discover the moon is falling out of orbit. With the help of conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (Bradley) and Harper’s estranged crewmate Jocinda Fowler (Berry), Harper must overcome global annihilation to defend the moon from the malevolent force that may be trying to destroy it.
When Moonfall works, it works because of Wilson and Bradley. Wilson remains Hollywood’s most underrated leading man, an A-list talent who routinely elevates ridiculous material with the right balance of sincerity and humor. Meanwhile, Bradley – always sympathetic onscreen – manages to turn a joke character into perhaps the most well-rounded piece of the entire film. It’s no small thing to make a conspiracy theorist endearing in 2022, but Bradley makes an excellent case for life after Game of Thrones.
When these two actors are together, Moonfall sparkles a little. But it quickly becomes evident that there are two sides to Emmerich’s movie. As our trio of leads heads into space to save the day, the special effects and big ideas begin to work in tandem. It’s a shame, then, that so much of the movie takes place on Earth. There are times when the destruction in Moonfall feels like a CD-ROM cutscene; the early destruction of Los Angeles feels at least one decade removed from our current level of special effects, and the quality of the moon’s assault – for lack of a better word – varies wildly from scene to scene. Of all the corners to cut in a Roland Emmerich movie, failing to give the disaster sequences a true sense of weight and scale seems like the worst possible decision.
If there is a saving grace to Moonfall, it’s that this may be the right film for the right moment. We the people are in desperate need of emotional catharsis, and a movie where the United States military threatens to nuke the moon offers no shortage of brainless release. But while there is probably an excellent documentary or book to be written about how the Moonfall production navigated the lockdowns and travel restrictions of COVID-19, the final product barely seems worth the effort.