Very early in Moonfall, we get a scene of Patrick Wilson singing Toto’s Africa and dancing around in a space suit. It’s all downhill from there.
After encountering turbulence during a space mission that results in the casualty of a fellow astronaut, Brian Harper (Wilson) heroically lands the shuttle…and is punished due to an unexplained anomaly, where the blame is put at his feet. It turns out 10 years later that the moon’s orbit actually shifted. As one character puts it, “so the moon has orbited Earth for billions of years, and now you’re telling me it’s changed its course?” Yes.
In the wake of all this, we get to see tons of people living in fear as the moon causes all sorts of natural disasters, before the good guys decide to do something about it. It gets wilder from there, to the point where saying anything about it would encroach into massive spoiler territory. The short of it? It’s hard to justify that this concept got out of the writer’s room and into a big budget film.
In typical Roland Emmerich fashion, there’s a ton of melodrama obfuscating the action. Harper’s “fall from grace” after being blamed for the incident is a huge part of the first act, with several very cheesy family scenes sprinkled in. He even runs away from his landlord who is knocking at his door and escapes out a window on a motorcycle! And he’s divorced, and both parties are angry at each other. All the ‘90s action tropes are out in full force. Wilson tries the hardest and gets the most material, but his natural charm is not enough.
“…with Moonfall, he’s barely scraping the surface of either concept.”
None of the other characters are worth rooting for, either. John Bradley is KC Houseman, an amateur scientist and conspiracy theory enthusiast who makes the convergent discovery alongside NASA: and he’s way too hyper for his own good, overacting in most scenes. I get that his character needs to go big to an extent, but the portrayal and direction of it are collectively exhausting.
Halle Berry isn’t really given much to do as Jo Fowler (an astronaut who was also with Harper ten years before the core events of the film, but was knocked out during the incident and wasn’t blamed), and the rest of the cast is background noise. It would have been one thing if Emmerich had given us a compelling set of characters to work with (or some combo/balance of fun action set pieces), as he had in the past. But with Moonfall, he’s barely scraping the surface of either concept.
It just doesn’t fully work in any sense. And with that sobering notion, I think it’s time for Emmerich to hang it up when it comes to 150-million-dollar blockbusters. He’s lost his edge in terms of writing and action direction, and I think if he really wants to continue down this path, going to a smaller scale and building back up, just like M. Night Shyamalan did, will result in better art all around.