What to Watch Verdict
What 'Moonfall' lacks in storytelling it makes up for with huge blockbuster swings as astronauts pull stupendously absurd heroics to hopefully save the world.
🌑 It's big, dumb fun
🌑 Visuals bring spectacle destruction
🌑 John Bradley and Patrick Wilson are a likable duo
🌑 Just keeps doubling down
🌑 Supporting characters are throwaways
🌑 Plays too serious in parts
🌑 Two hours is a bit much for what's present
Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, starring Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson, is a gloriously reckless return to planetary disasters that falls between the director's highs of Independence Day and the lows of its sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s never as sharply executed as Independence Day but also leaps and bounds more dumbfoundingly enjoyable than Independence Day: Resurgence.
For better and worse, Moonfall is the biggest, blockbusteriest, bonk-iest disaster flick I’ve seen in some time. It’s nearly impossible to keep a straight face as characters spew science fiction nonsense worth too many unintentional laughs, which is precisely the charm of this sensationally ridiculous slice of junk food cinema.
In Moonfall, it’s the end of the world as we know it when the moon’s orbit shifts towards Earth. Jocinda Fowl (Berry) becomes acting NASA commander after her superior flees, with only weeks before the moon is expected to obliterate civilization. It’s not long before oceans overflow and gravitational pulls collide, but there’s a single sliver of hope if Jocinda can pull off the unthinkable. With the help of ex-astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson), who’s teamed with conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley), Jocinda plans one last mission into space. All their loved ones can do is watch from below, fighting the elements as nature goes berserk.
Moonfall is like a cosmic soap opera the way characters lug around emotional baggage. The divorced NASA official, the disrespected stepfather, the divorced space traveler with an imprisoned kid — Emmerich overloads his script with unnecessary earthling drama. Why distract from the raining moon chunk projectiles? Still, that’s part of the endearing oddness of it all, the way implausible intergalactic action is broken up by Lifetime schmaltz. Neither aspect relents, but it’s that blind confidence that produces hilarious line reads from actors who are committed to seriousness against all apocalyptic odds.
Emmerich’s formula of explosions and exposition dumps hurdles forward as actors cling onto the thinnest strands of narrative advancement. There are no low stakes — the most mundane task usually leads to another attempt to recreate Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech. Academy award-winning actress Halle Berry delivers passionate dialogue in a movie that spotlights a cat named Fuzz Aldrin. Patrick Wilson handsomely heroes his way with action figure coolness despite opening the film by incorrectly singing the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa.” Everyone is doing capital “A” acting in an environment best described by “B” movie appeal. Save for John Bradley, who leans into his character’s obsession with Elon Musk and basement genius energy. He comprehends the assignment and how to counteract those intense moments that otherwise would feel distractingly out of place.
The marquee attractions in Moonfall — computer-animated anomalies and catastrophes — earn a “mission accomplished” approval. Tidal waves turn into liquid spires being pulled towards the sky like magic, or looters provoke gunfight car chases while debris crash into their driving paths. It’s incalculable insanity, and that’s before the third act introduces an even more gonzo foil to humanity’s insignificance beyond becoming astro roadkill.
Emmerich’s excitement towards crafting event films that only indulge the most operatic and bombastic displays is so unbelievably extra throughout Moonfall, which wouldn’t work without such an eccentric imagination. It’s an experience that makes us feel so small, like we’ll be sucked into the screen along with objects being yanked into the stratosphere. Emmerich’s handbook has no such entry as “too far,” which works as Earth takes beatdown after beatdown in the celestial octagon.
I had a blast with Moonfall – others won’t. It’s a structural mess that doesn’t care about secondary characters nor worries about securing foundations to support the increasingly top-heavy story that keeps building higher and higher. Moonfall finds that fragile middle ground between asinine big-budget garbage and exquisite blockbuster madness as only Roland Emmerich can navigate. That’s either a dire warning or an enticing welcome.
“Mindless“ isn’t the descriptor movies about Apollo launch histories and the Space Shuttle Endeavour would usually draw, but those movies probably don’t include subtle Matrix nods and Space X appreciations. All I know is Moonfall kept making me giddy-grin like a kid again — who cares why.
Moonfall releases exclusively in movie theaters on Friday, Feb. 4.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.