At one, brief, point while watching Roland Emmerich’s new movie Moonfall, I thought that it could finally be a Space Shuttle successor to Space Camp, the 1986 movie where a well-meaning robot launches a bunch of kids into orbit so they can have the adventure of their lives. (Spoiler: they do.) Quickly, though, I realized that even Space Camp, hardly a documentary, had a degree of scientific rigor so foreign to Moonfall that the two movies couldn’t possibly be compared beyond the premise that a Space Shuttle is surprisingly easy to fly.
Moonfall adds just a few more implausible premises to buttress its chaotic plot. The first one is that conspiracy theorists who argue the Moon is a hollow alien artifact just might be right. The meager charm of John Bradley’s amiable performance fortunately doesn’t have to support an extended exploration of this notion, because by the time the stereotypically ill-shaven Redditors are gathered in a hotel meeting room, the tidewaters are rising as the Moon…well, you can guess from the title what the Moon is doing, although the screenplay Emmerich co-wrote with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen does also include the immortal line, “Oh, shit! The Moon is rising!”
A far better title for the film would have been the openly popcorn-baiting Nuke the Moon, since that’s essentially the plan Earth comes up with. (Checks out.) The plot’s tension arises not between astro-pacifists and astro-hawks, but between two approaches to nuking the moon. A group of generals want to dispatch the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal in a last-ditch attempt to do…something. (Eme Ikwuakor gets the movie’s other great line, as he pauses with the launch key. “My ex-wife’s up there.”)
Meanwhile, disgraced space jockey Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, as boring as his character’s and his own names imply) joins rogue NASA administrator Jo Fowler (Halle Berry, who makes the wise choice to never act much more stressed than she would be lining up a ten-foot putt) in a desperate attempt to use the re-commissioned Space Shuttle Endeavor (still flight-ready, even amidst 200-foot waves) for a more precise strike targeting the shape-shifting programmed to destroy all technology-interfacing biological lifeforms.
There’s more business at ground level, where a motley crew of people somehow related to the principals (including a nanny, a different ex-wife, the ex-wife’s new husband, their kids, and two children of the respectively dissolved marriages) try to make their way to safety through a Rocky Mountain range being pounded with summit-pulverizing meteors while fencing with rogue street gangs of brutal thugs. I’d personally have preferred to spend this stretch of the movie inside the chunk of the Chrysler Building getting thrown halfway across the continent, but beggars can’t be choosers.
What saves Moonfall, if anything, is how absolutely unapologetic it is about its own dumbness. Every scene invites a dozen questions about logistics, timing, and the fundamental laws of the universe, but Emmerich makes adamantly clear that he is absolutely not going to answer a single one of those questions. A film full of Kubrick nods, Moonfall is like a remake of 2001 produced by Bill Murray’s cynical TV producer from Scrooged.
Moonfall is exactly what you’d expect from a director who reached the peak of subtlety and craft with Independence Day. For a movie that’s objectively terrible, it’s surprisingly watchable just because it’s so unburdened of any pretension to anything more. Interstellar and Ad Astra, for example, were both far superior astronaut action flicks, but they were also both positively torturous in their aspirations to distinction. Moonfall is just a big silly ball of cheese…kind of like the moon, right? Right? Bueller?
Photo: John Bradley in Moonfall (Reiner Bajo, courtesy Lionsgate).