When one thinks of destructive, end-of-the-world movies, one name comes to the top of mind – Roland Emmerich. He may not have originated the genre, but he has certainly made his mark on it with a list of films that have left us demanding his next foray into the field. He simply cannot seem to stay away, no matter how many times he has stated that this is certainly his last end of the world, destruction film. Moonfall is an interesting film, using the typical dynamic – a skeptic, a conspiracy theorist, and a straight man caught up in it all because they want to do the right thing, after having done the wrong thing in the first place. Patrick Wilson (of Insidious, The Conjuring, and Aquaman fame – among others), John Bradley (from Game of Thrones), and Halle Berry (she will have you know that she attended the Razzies for Catwoman with her Oscar from Monster’s Ball) are those three roles, respectively as Brian Harper, K.C. Houseman, and Jocinda Fowler.
The movie begins in 2011, during a mission in space where a mysterious force kills one of the astronauts, leaving Fowler unconscious and Harper raving about things that will be swept under the rug. With his career shuttered, and the blame placed squarely on him, his family inevitably falls apart leading to his wife, Brenda (played by Carolina Bartczak from X-Men Apocalypse) to remarry Michael Pena in what I can only assume was a role he took to pay for a Gazebo? I only say that because he usually has much larger roles in his films these days. If the film had been made in 2011, I could see that, but after CHiPs, two Ant-Man films, Gangster Squad, and American Hustle… Obviously, this film features a large cast of well-known actors, Donald Sutherland even pops in for what could generously be called a minute of screen time, excusing the diminished presence of one of Hollywood’s funniest actors. But I digress.
Because the end of the world isn’t enough of a plot point, Moonfall introduces a minor subplot where Harper’s son is arrested and locked up at the same time that information of the Moon hurtling towards Earth is revealed. So, rather than making sure that everybody has a fighting chance, it’s up to a plot contrivance to get him out so that another linear subplot can be used to show the vast destruction wrought against the Earth, while Harper, Fowler, and Houseman try to find a way to save the Earth.
These movies do not rely on science or logic, and explanations are as quickly dismissed as they are explained – why is the building still standing after we watched countless other buildings get destroyed by the same force? Because, we need the story to progress and it will be damned before it lets a little thing like logic get in the way of a good time. That is why we love these movies! If we wanted a realistic explanation for why the Earth’s gravitational disruption isn’t tearing it apart long before the moon could actually collide with it, we’d sit in a physics lecture! That’s what makes movies like Moonfall so beloved, even when they aren’t necessarily financially successful.
The point of the movie is to watch as Earth is bombarded with some kind of nebulous destructive force that will, inevitably, target visual landmarks that can place the action for us (who needs location cards?). It’s a similar vein for a monster film – the people involved are secondary to the CGI destruction. Nobody came to Godzilla for Aaron Johnson (except for his fans), they came for the towering Godzilla and whoever he’s fighting/palling around with this time. Yet, these films (especially in recent years) seem to want to hit the same beats with varying degrees of success – a hero with a bruised ego and wounded pride, whose partner has moved on and taken the kids to their new husband/wife (who is definitely going to die), and then fights to save their family along with whoever is lucky to tag along until their death will strike a narrative beat.
That’s where Moonfall falls apart. It has all of those same beats, and yet it is including them as if it were a requirement, rather than a necessity. Half of the cast serves little more than a plot function before dying off with barely a mention thereafter, and the emotional ties between those who survive are dismissed with a casual line of dialogue. The destruction is fun, the twist is awesome, but the cast of characters are (more than usually) only there to move from one destructive scene to the next.
Does that make Moonfall a bad film? No. It doesn’t make it a masterpiece, either. It’s a run-of-the-mill destruction film that, because of circumstances outside of its control, failed to make much buzz at the box office. That happens a lot, and if Moonfall is like several other films that have come out, it will have a cult following sooner rather than later.