Moonfall : Movie Review

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When one thinks of director Roland Emmerich’s films, the mind floats instantly to scenes from 1996’s Independence Day. Namely, scenes featuring motherships firing green lasers at national and cultural landmarks; the lasers also spawn expanding fireballs capable of vaporizing any unlucky bastard in their blast radii. The latest of his disaster oeuvre, Moonfall, finds Emmerich, to use a vulgar and popular phrase, “back on his bullshit again,” getting the Earth blowed up real good (said with tongue firmly in cheek) and trying to fashion his usual stock of wooden characters into our heroes and anchors. 

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Moonfall is, quite frankly, a lesser remake of Independence Day where humanity faces extinction, thus necessitating spaceflights, oddly-matched partners, and the big sacrifice that Emmerich drops in to move the audience emotionally. But this overloud, overlong, overwrought, and overdone movie doesn’t have an ounce of brain cells in it that could possibly give us any reason to care at all for this story or the people in it. We’re just here to have excessive spectacle shoveled into our eyeballs and to feel like we’re on a rollercoaster ride with no brakes and no safety harnesses.

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This movie doesn’t give you any time to think; its pacing demands that we move from one set piece to another without any cohesion or ponderance, lest we notice that the film is ultimately empty. The characters are only there to nudge us slightly in some kind of emotional direction by making their superficial flaws of paramount importance. It’s the kind of writing and character establishment – not character development, mind you – that simply puts people into the audience’s view to be their proxy, not their touchstone.

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Let’s see what we’ve got here:
Astronaut who saw something in space, gets discredited, develops a drinking problem, loses his family, and is suddenly presented with a shot at redemption? Check.
Astronaut’s disbelieving partner who played the political game and rose through the ranks now needs her old buddy to help her save the world? Yup.
Rando scientist who warns that the sky is falling, but no one will listen until it’s almost too late? How’d you guess?
Someone dealing with a former spouse with children in the mix, and one of them’s a rebel? You don’t say.
Familiar landmarks are destroyed and people barely miss getting pasted by debris? That’s a Texas-sized 10-4, good buddy.

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Of course, just enough of a sci-fi/mystery spin is put on it to differentiate itself from the 25-year-old Independence Day, which also means that the destructo-fest has to be bigger. Instead of motherships with green lasers, it’s our own moon itself being used against us, having shifted out of orbit and put on a collision course with Earth. We don’t know why this is happening, save for Dr. K.C. Houseman’s (John Bradley) theory positing the moon as a megastructure built by aliens.

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Honestly, the way the film carries itself and the fast-and-loose physics put on display here make any attempt at explaining the story and plot an exercise in futility, as there’s no reason to care for either. We’re not put in any one situation long enough to form any attachments to anyone or anything, and if the script tries to do so, we’re pushed away by terrible writing and exaggerated-to-hell-and-back performances that want to engender some kind of danger or excitement, but only serve to annoy us more. 

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No relationship is worth writing about because they do not matter. Not in the slightest. Not between mother and son, father and son, ex-wife and ex-husband, ex-husband and current husband, or cat and owner. Characterizations and interpersonal stories are as arch as they come, and when one or more of them die, it’s done in a rote, “aww, look at the self-sacrifice” kind of Irwin Allen-esque manner that dictates someone has to die. 

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And their deaths have to prove a point – whether it’s “he’s not as bad a guy as you thought,” or “this is the character’s destiny,” or “this person is an asshole, so they’d better get killed.” They don’t die to shock or to make the audience feel; deaths in Moonfall feel like paint-by-numbers tossoffs that don’t mean anything. Everyone is a token character; even the buildup to the big sacrificial moment feels like a ripoff of another very loud big-rock-hurtling-toward-Earth movie from the late ‘90s.

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So what’s keeping our butts in the seats? Not for nothin’, but Roland Emmerich knows how to do large spectacle. His lack of care with humanity – which he seems so hellbent on decimating in his big action movies – is balanced by rabid attention to immersing the viewer in audacity. There are astounding visual effects to behold here, from the film’s spacewalk prologue to shots of moon debris entering the atmosphere and turning the planet into Swiss cheese. Even when Emmerich cannibalizes shots from Independence Day, there’s still an undeniable magic that comes through in the visuals, something so unbelievable and astounding, but terrific to look at.

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Where does that leave Moonfall as a whole? It’s nothing but a by-the-book popcorn movie. The script and performances are only there to serve as the glue holding the crash-boom-bang sequences together. Humanity doesn’t exist in Roland Emmerich’s films; humans are the ants getting squashed under the foot of whatever’s coming at them, and Emmerich treats them as such, making them scurry every which way to stay alive. Turn your brains off when you check this one out, as any attempt at making heads or tails of the science, emotions, or logic of the film will only result in frustration and failure.

MPA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disaster action, strong language, and some drug use. (It’s someone taking anti-anxiety meds, which doesn’t get explained thoroughly and makes one character look like a random pill-popper.)
Running time: 130 minutes.
Released by Lionsgate.

Moonfall

Rating

2

The latest of director Roland Emmerich's disaster oeuvre finds him, to use a vulgar and popular phrase, “back on his bullshit again.”