Roland Emmerich’s “Moonfall” plays a lot like a Super Bowl commercial that got way out of hand. It costs far too much money, it goes on far too long, and the premise is so weird that, when all is said and done, you have no idea what it was even trying to sell you.
But it was probably Teslas. In the long, long, long list of laugh-out-loud dialogue in Emmerich’s latest disasterpiece, a special place must be reserved for the film’s multiple, random shout-outs to Elon Musk. This surely must be the first $146-million-dollar blockbuster where the heroes ask themselves out loud, “What would Elon do?” Or just flat-out exclaim, “I love Elon!”
Then again, it’s also a film where — when the moon is drifting closer and closer to the Earth, kicking up tidal waves and gravity wells and sucking up our oxygen — someone asks Patrick Wilson to help save the planet and he grumbles, “I dunno, I got a lot of problems of my own down here.” So there’s plenty of competition in the silly department.
Yes, “Moonfall” is a film about the moon — that one right above you, right now — going rogue and trying to kill us all. Complaining that a film like this is “silly” is like complaining that your hot dog is cylindrical. You knew what you were buying when you forked over the cash, dang it.
Sure enough, “Moonfall” has all the wacky moon shenanigans you could possibly want. We learn very quickly that, in this universe, the moon wasn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon. It’s a “megastructure” created by aliens. And it’s coming to get us, but not in a straight line. Oh no, that would be too easy. It’s going to go about it all spiral-like, so we can get scenes where, and this is 100% true, people try to outrun the moon. On foot. You see, the moon snuck up on them.
John Bradley (“Game of Thrones”) plays KC Houseman, a conspiracy theorist who, like all the best Roland Emmerich heroes, was right about everything, and if only people had listened to his crackpot ideas sooner, more lives could have been spared. (See also: “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012,” etc.) Before any other scientist, Houseman notices the moon’s orbit has decayed, so he enlists disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson) to help him get the message to NASA.
After sending a spacecraft to the moon and watching unspeakable terrors befall the crew, newly-appointed NASA chief Jocinda Fowl (Halle Berry) enlists Houseman and Harper to come up with a brand-new plan based on completely wackadoodle theories. Meanwhile, Fowl’s son and Harper’s son and his stepsisters are on a deadly journey to an underground bunker, evading hastily cobbled together “Road Warrior” gangs and, as always, that gosh-darned moon.
The script for “Moonfall” takes the basic Emmerich disaster movie plot outline and replaces a lot of the words with the word “moon.” Many of the Master of Disaster’s films are based on the idea that fringe conspiracy theories are real, but at least most of those other movies are inspired by ideas you’ve actually heard of and can wrap your head around, like doomsday prophecies or space aliens. When this film claims that “the moon is effectively the biggest cover-up in history,” it’s harder to just go along with it. It sounds like the actors are reading placeholder text.
And yet, absurd as it is, “Moonfall” represents yet another bold stroke of maximalist grandeur from a filmmaker who excels at making overwhelming chaos look beautiful. The image of a space shuttle desperately firing its engines while it’s engulfed in a gigantic tidal wave might be nonsensical, but through Emmerich’s lens, it’s practically biblical. Thanks to some hit-and-miss-but-mostly-hit visual effects, and some suitably epic cinematography from Robby Baumgartner (“Midway”), Emmerich nearly convinces the audience that it’s a truly special, beautiful sci-fi adventure. At least until the characters start talking again.
It’s hard to imagine that a film like “Moonfall” could have been made by accident, but Roland Emmerich may be one of the least self-aware filmmakers on the planet. His sincerity in depicting outlandish situations is fundamental to his appeal. So while one may wish to laud “Moonfall” as a triumphant work of absurdism, accidental or otherwise, instead we must consult a less mature — but no less insightful — perspective. It seems as though Emmerich and company simply think that this — this insipid, hackneyed, laughable joke of a motion picture — is actually really cool.
And the weirdest part of all is, they’re kind of right. “Moonfall” may be a one-star movie, but it’s a four-star one-star movie.
“Moonfall” opens in US theaters Feb. 4.