Between Moonfall and Jackass Forever, I am not sure which one of us got the short end of the stick this past weekend. Probably Cameron. I cannot tell you how delighted I was when he volunteered to see and review Jackass Forever. Last week, when looking ahead to Hollywood’s offerings, I feared that I would be sitting through a painful Friday or Saturday night watching others purposely inflict pain on themselves for, er . . . comedy? This left me with Moonfall, which I assumed was going to be awful, but for vastly different reasons. Well, it was not awful. It was not good either. If you are familiar with the film’s director Roland Emmerich’s work, then you will not be seeing anything new in terms of tone or plot structure. In fact, if you have seen Independence Day (1996), or its sequel, you have basically seen this movie. Yet, because I am a slave to habit, here is my review of Moonfall.
Unsurprisingly, given the title, Moonfall starts in space. Astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (Halle Berry) are leading a mission on the space shuttle Endeavor (remember those?) to fix a satellite. Brian and another crewmate are on a spacewalk when they are attacked by a swarm of metallic creatures that knock out the power to the shuttle and lead to the death of their crewmate. Brian also notices some strange phenomenon emanating from the moon. With Jo also rendered unconscious, Brian is left to maneuver the shuttle back into the atmosphere and land it without the help of any of his instruments. Despite his heroics, responsibility for the disaster is placed entirely on him and he is dismissed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This leads to a fall from grace for him that includes alienating his son and divorce from his wife, Brenda (Carolina Bartczak). Ten years go by, and NASA notices a hole opening on the lunar surface. More alarmingly, the moon’s orbit seems to be decaying, and will eventually collide with the Earth. This last event also comes to the attention of self-proclaimed structuralist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), who believes that the moon is basically a giant space station built by aliens. Because no one will believe him, he decides to go public with his findings, which creates public pressure on NASA to do something about this situation. The mission they send to the moon ends up meeting the same fate as Brian’s crew. Between this and the growing environmental problems on Earth (the moon controls our tides, by the way), it proves too much for current NASA director Albert Hutchings (Stephen Bogaert), who unexpectedly resigns. It is Jo who steps into his role. Despite being suddenly thrust into this new position, it gives her access to learn more about a threat that her former crewmate had warned them about ten years ago. Her investigation takes her into the rabbit hole of the NASA archives where the inevitable theorist, Holdenfield (Donald Sutherland), is there to explain all the things the government knew about the current threat. There is something about the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and a secret program to detonate an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) to take care of it. Whatever. At any rate, it convinces her to attempt another mission to the moon. Because her ex-husband, Doug Davidson (Eme Ikwuakor), is on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she is able to convince them to stay their itchy nuclear trigger fingers (that is always the cinematic solution to threats like this, is it not?) until she can put together her team. Because her “research” seems to indicate that the swarm is attracted to technology, they decide to go with a low-tech alternative to current spacecraft. This means getting the space shuttle Endeavor out of a museum and using it to approach the steadily nearing moon. She also turns to Brian, who had been hanging out with K.C., to be the shuttle’s pilot. While they prepare for going to space, their families are being evacuated to safer locations. Actually, this is a whole side-plot that does not do a ton for the story. To make a long story short, Brian’s son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) helps Jo’s live-in foreign exchange student/nanny (not making this up) Michelle (Kelly Yu) and her little boy attempt to get to safety. They end making it to Brenda and her new husband’s Tom Lopez’s (Michael Peña) Aspen home, but then have to flee again because Moon stuff. Anyway, Brian and Jo, along with K.C., after barely making it off the planet, manage to get inside the moon. There, they learn that it is, in fact, a built structure. The people who put it together were distantly ancient humans. The swarm is an artificial intelligence (AI) that turned against our forebears. The moon was intended to perpetuate the species, but one of the swarms got inside and has waited all this time to attack the Earth. Alright, enough of this. K.C. sacrifices himself to detonate the EMP as the Moon is beginning to skim the Earth’s atmosphere. This saves the day, and for some reason means the Moon will return to its normal orbit. Brian and Jo make it back to their families, and they are left to pick up the shattered pieces.
I suppose people do not watch Moonfall for an intricate, thought-provoking plot. Stupid me, and my stupid brain, for doing any thinking. I will try not to get into the nitty-gritty of all the dumb moments in this film. I mean, it seems to suggest that the space shuttle Endeavor is in a museum in Houston, and somehow they are able to get it all the way to California in a couple of hours? And it launches with one engine out of commission? Have they seen anything about how delicate are these machines? I digress. Anyway, the bigger picture is the unnecessariness of the Sonny and Michelle sub-plot. I get it, though. The reason we see them at all is so that Emmerich’s computer animators can show some digital shots of what it would look like on Earth as the gravity goes haywire and Moon rocks rain down destruction. And because we need something for the side-characters to do, they are not only dodging space debris but also ruffians bent on robbery. Yes, despite the world seemingly coming to an end, we have a group of people whose only motivation is to be a bunch of jerks. I mean, do we need Mad Max (1979) and Independence Day? What would have made the film slightly more interesting is if they had focused on the Moon. The bit about the Moon being built by ancient humans and that their AI led to their destruction felt tacked on and not in keeping with the action tone it sets. A true science fiction needs a slowly developing plot so that we mere mortals can wrap our heads around the strange technology we are seeing. Instead, we are forced to sit through more mad stunts. In sum, this is a popcorn flick.
The last paragraph would seem a rather large criticism of Moonfall, particularly if you are like me and you want your movies to have a little more substance. At the same time, I will say that I did not hate any of the characters. K.C. sacrificing himself for the sake of his friends and the world is a Christian act, and he seems to be rewarded with a Hollywood version of Heaven, as the AI inside the Moon (the good one, I guess) scanned his conscious and he is now a part of the Moon. Instead, this Catholic reviewer will nitpick on a brief moment in the film, which also seems to be a part of virtually every disaster film. Whenever you see these kinds of movies, there is usually a mock newscast where a reporter says something about religious groups (often referred to as “fanatics”) calling these terrible events a sign of the end of the world. In a sense, they are not wrong, but I cannot help feeling irked every time I see it. Read Revelation some time (note the lack of the “s”). While one could draw the parallel to Moon rocks crashing into the Earth with some of what is in the book about the Biblical end times, like most things in Scripture, these things are less about the literal events and more about being prepared for them. What I particularly rage against is not only the certainty with which these religious groups are depicted, that they know this is the end, but that it becomes symbolic of supposedly typical Christian behavior. Sometimes other religions are lumped in with this behavior, but most often it is Christians. They are the real lunatics, you know? It is part and parcel of a stereotype that gets me up and writing almost every morning. Still, as I said, it is not a major part of the plot, but it is there all the same.
Despite the utter tedium of Moonfall, it was still good to be back in the movie theater after two weekends of nothing, and not seeing Jackass Forever. My girlfriend also stayed awake for the entirety of Moonfall. The food helped, but so did the nearly constant, if almost incomprehensible, action. I do not recommend the film. Yet, if between now and next weekend you are forced to go to the movies, hope that it is Moonfall and not Jackass Forever.