Filmmaker Roland Emmerich has established himself as a player in two major genres of film: historical epics and larger than life apocalyptic disasters. Honing his craft since his meteoric Hollywood rise with Stargate and Independence Day, you can tell that the man enjoys putting likable characters into end-of-the-world scenarios. His confidence in this half of his filmography is absolutely on display in his latest, Moonfall, with Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and John Bradley playing the trio of heroes who try to save the world. The bravado with which Emmerich attacks this project is admirable, which both helps and hurts this would-be blockbuster.
The setup for the story is absolutely Emmerichian in scope and execution, as we’re once again dealing with life from among the stars, and a ticking clock standing between extinction and salvation. This time around the catalyst for all the destruction that lies ahead is an ill-fated space mission that almost kills astronauts Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) and Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) a decade prior to the main events of the narrative.
As part of a longer, more massive cover up to the true nature of what we call the Moon, those events will bring these estranged friends back together, alongside a conspiracy theorist (John Bradley) who thinks he has some insight into the situation.
Firmly in command of his sense of a world ending epic, Roland Emmerich replays most of his greatest hits in Moonfall.
As laid out above, it feels like all that’s missing from Moonfall is a couple of cigars, a handful of catchphrases, and an inspirational speech to rally the troops to be totally familiar. That last component is definitely present, thanks to a moment given to Halle Berry’s authority figure character, though it plays out a bit differently this time around. Independence Day isn’t the only Roland Emmerich movie that gets some love either, as a bunch of the co-writer/director’s hallmarks are thrown in, making this movie a sort of greatest hits collection. Family bonds are tested, nuclear arms are considered, and landmarks are taken out with reckless abandon.
Such a strategy feels like a sort of shorthand to help the audience climb on board with Moonfall’s premise and characters at an accelerated pace. What’s strange is that seeing as this movie clocks in at a little over two hours, it’s roughly in line with the running times of other Emmerich disaster movies. Yet somehow it still feels like the story, co-written by Harold Kloser and Spenser Cohen, is moving at a much brisker pace than normal.
This works to the film’s favor in the first act, as the setup isn’t nearly as fun as the payoff that awaits later on. But by fast forwarding that setup, the really huge swings that are taken in third act reveals aren’t as well built into the overall structure. Moonfall leaves audiences wanting more, even if they aren’t entirely sure what it is they crave more of by time the intriguing sequel tease has kicked in.
Mileage will definitely vary with audience members who see this as a bug or a feature when it comes to the rollercoaster ride taken through an increasingly unstable Earth. As far as I was concerned, I would have liked to linger a little more with this ensemble of characters in order to build better relationships to latch onto during the fireworks. Even without that luxury, Moonfall still has quite a bit of fun to offer those who want to just jump into a familiar tale of destruction and resilience.
Orbiting around a trio of likable characters, Moonfall’s thinly spread story doesn’t totally decay.
Leaving the audience to fill in the gaps for themselves is something that draws away from the total package that Moonfall is trying to offer. The nagging feeling of scenes or beats entirely missing from storylines occurs frequently, especially through an extremely short scene between Halle Berry and Donald Sutherland. As that scene has been used quite a bit when promoting the film, you may have already prepared yourself for Sutherland to show up as a slightly glorified cameo. I can almost assure you that the actual moment is actually shorter than you’d think.
If it wasn’t for the extremely likable characters and performances that hold Moonfalll together, we could have been talking about another type of disaster here. Leave it to Roland Emmerich’s confidence to somewhat save the day again, as casting Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson as heroic astronauts is one of those cases where his shorthand approach works. Berry and Wilson make for a fantastic team.
But of course, every team like this needs an MVP, and, with no offense to his co-stars, John Bradley’s Dr. K.C. Houseman is the best part of Moonfall. Stealing portions of the movie with a mixture of humble likability and scientific expertise, K.C. is a role that’s very similar to the role played by Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day. Armed with a backstory involving a mother in a nursing home and a cat named Fuzz Aldrin, it isn’t hard to identify with the lovable character. Believe me when I tell you that John Bradley’s performance sticks the landing, knitting the three protagonists all the more closer when it comes to their third act voyage to the Moon.
Moonfall ambitiously tries to play as a leaner, meaner apocalypse movie – and while it doesn’t totally succeed, it’s still a fun blockbuster to indulge in.
On the whole, Moonfall feels underdeveloped when it comes to its story, but comfortably confident when it comes to the destructive spectacle and likable heroism on display. Looking at all of the pieces put together, that’s not to say that Roland Emmerich and his writers don’t know how to tell a story. Rather, it feels as if this particular spin on a tried and true formula was a bit too ambitious when it came to shaping itself as a leaner, meaner apocalypse movie.
It wouldn’t at all be surprising to learn that there’s a longer version of this story that was cut down into a theatrical cut. As it stands, the finished product does manage to keep moving in the name of efficiency and adventure, which is what allows Moonfall to remain a fun indulgence in the name of special effects blockbusters. Such distractions are still needed at the movies, especially when there’s all sorts of new pitfalls, close calls, and gravity defying hijinks included.
Would it have been nice if Moonfall really took the time to slow down its ticking clock of unpredictability and give us some more weight to such matters? Yes, it absolutely would have – especially when we’ve seen Roland Emmerich use this playground to greater effect in the past. Even with that caveat in mind, it’s undeniable that the German filmmaker absolutely knows what he’s doing, even if the execution is outweighed by the spirit of innovation. It may be sparse in places, but Moonfall is still a great warmup to lure audiences back into theaters for a larger than life throwdown.