It’s perhaps no surprise that Roland Emmerich’s ‘film’ about how the Moon is out of orbit because it’s fake (and therefore is destroying the world) is terrible. The only surprise is how irredeemably awful Moonfall actually is. What looks like a perfectly serviceable stupid movie, a bad movie certainly, but one ridiculous enough to give some enjoyment, even if it’s only irony, is almost indescribably abysmal. There is nothing of merit here. Every aspect of the film is independently terrible and, somehow, the combined whole is even worse. In fact, there doesn’t seem to even be a film here. There’s a collection of moving images, for sure, but nothing that feels made, written, produced or directed. Nothing that feels like it ever derived from something human.
There is at least an amusing central irony to the film. After Moonfall goes through industrial amounts of contrivance, convolution, melodrama, plot holes and assorted stupidity, the story (to use charitable terms) boils down to a cautionary tale (to use even more charitable terms) about artificial intelligence. There’s a nonsensical exposition dump that serves as the background narrative for the film, which is ultimately a few steps removed from just being Scientology, and it turns out AI rebelled against its creators and is going to kill us all, or something. It doesn’t really matter: you can’t spoil what’s already rotten. Anyway, the core irony is how artificial this film is. Again, you cannot convince me that humans made this film. The plotting is so bizarre, yet so terrible; the acting so stilted (from people that I know can act, I’ve seen many of them do it before); the writing is so clunky and artificial that it cannot have been written by a person (but also can’t be improvised, because even that couldn’t be as bad). Clearly, the film itself is the work of a nefarious AI, one warning us about its own capabilities. And it certainly is a deadly AI, it’s just starting by killing cinema.
But, at least it’s a disaster film where you get to see the world get destroyed. At least we get some spectacle, right? Well, not really. First of all, the film is horrendously ugly. It being about the Moon leaving its orbit and therefore starting to collide with earth means that it’s a world of eternal night. Yet, there are plenty of films set in the dark that manage to be watchable. This is just murky and often visually incomprehensible. Also, all interior scenes are atrocious, brought down further by some of the least intentional direction and editing you will ever see. At one point, I swear, the film cuts from one angle to a reverse angled shot, both showing the same character, visually suggesting that they just teleported across the room and cinematically conveying that they are having a conversation with themselves. Frequently, characters clearly exist on another plane to the CGI backdrops that make up the film. They pop awkwardly and interact even more strangely, conveying all the realism of that scene from Wayne’s World where Wayne and Garth march in front of a blue screen. This same terrible CGI makes up all the destruction.
On paper, it’s thrilling stuff. At one point, the Moon is literally grinding against the earth and is pushing off the top of a mountain. Submarines and battleships fly through the sky; the Chrysler Building is upended and transported to a mountain range; gravitational fields create waves that tower over rocket launches. It is all so theoretically thrilling. In execution, it is nothing. You are watching unparalleled levels of destruction and nothing matters. There is no extant peril for any of our characters, and it all just looks weightless to begin with. It is also so hyperbolically destructive that it’s hard to care. We are watching Earth get pummeled by everything. Again, a mountain literally explodes at one point (more than one point, actually). And it’s all so ridiculous that nothing has any impact. All of this death and chaos functions as a backdrop for a mission to save the world, by flying into the Moon (because the Moon is fake). So, the destruction on Earth is just padding. The real stakes exist on the Moon mission; Earth exploding is just a plot device. And it’s all going to be saved anyway, and you know nothing will have mattered when it does (genuinely, the film doesn’t even bother to wrap anything up, it instead teases an incomprehensible sequel premise). The film never invokes a sense of consequence, impact, weight or meaning. Destruction is only ever a visual and never a convincing one. It is never conflict, drama or even a cinematic reality.
So, the focus instead rests on the characters. There’s a lot of them; they are all terrible. Actually, that’s not right. They aren’t characters to begin with. Each supposed human is a collection of lazy tropes and is different in almost every scene, with some exceptions that are at least consistent even if they are merely consistently irritating. We have Patrick Wilson as the disgraced former astronaut who just might astronaut again and save the world from the Moon. He is generated from a collection of clichéd backstories. He’s a divorced dad that’s tuning up a muscle car for his son, a son who joy rides his way to jail, but really has a heart of gold (I could continue). It’s pretty insufferable. Then there’s Halle Berry: she was on a mission with Wilson’s character in the past; he saved her when an alien thing attacked but nobody believed his story (hence his disgrace). She’s now also divorced, she also has a kid in the middle of things (and her ex-husband is some high up military official that may or may not want to nuke the Moon). She also becomes acting head of NASA. At one point she goes to a secret NASA facility where she meets Donald Sutherland who drops a bunch of exposition (before suggesting he is going to shoot himself) that boils down to: we’ve known the Moon was fake since the Moon landing; we knew it would kill us at some point; we decided to tell nobody and thus could never justify the budget needed for a mission to save the world.
That’s an actual plot point in this movie.
We also have the irritating comic relief (who is pretty much the protagonist), Game of Thrones’ John Bradley as a conspiracy theorist who is ultimately, and inexplicably, correct about everything. To the extent that he gets to join the space mission. For no reason, he has worked everything out and is better at calculations than anybody working in the space industry, despite being some random conspiracist with no discernible background in anything that would give him the knowledge he has. It’s all just a horrendous arc that legitimises completely nonsensical conspiracies at a time where conspiracies are rife and dangerous in the real world. At a point, the film also skirts very close to legitimising a theory that alludes to the Ancient Aliens hypothesis (a conspiracy theory founded in racism). At another point, the film also has Patrick Wilson’s character give his son a gun out of nowhere, which later means that he will survive a potentially deadly encounter. So, carry guns around, I guess, and give them to eighteen year-olds… The messaging in this film is atrocious.
But, everything in this film is atrocious. It is a film of catastrophic stupidity that only gets worse, and becomes more insufferably idiotic the more sense it tries to make. Ultimately, it feels like a remake of Armageddon (1998) but only if it did everything at least twenty times worse, and added a whole host more nonsense. In comparison, Armageddon (not a good film) is a work of real humanity, subtlety and humour. Because anything is better than this. Moonfall is as hollow as the fake Moon it depicts; as lacking in humanity as the malevolent AI that is the antagonist and just downright awful. Like all disaster movies, every now and then you get a scene which could lead to the death of a major character, or to irreversible destruction (but you know it never actually will). In this movie, every time, you will be wishing for their death and hoping that the world ends and thus finishes the movie.