Roland Emmerich has made a $146m independent film. With our current reality one of increasing stress and anxiety…sure, why not?
Moonfall ticks a lot of the standard boxes the German director has exhibited over the years. Whether it’s a conspiracy theorist that just so happens to be right, a father/son story that could have been removed without damaging the plot, or the total destruction of the Chrysler Building (again), the guy has a regular set of silliness that he imbibes in. There’s a drunken pleasure to most of it, even if the meat of the story is too silly and the dialogue too insane for anything but a guilty pleasure. This time it’s not even meant attempting to be highbrow, opting instead to cobble together bits from Zemeckis’s Contact , James Gray’s Ad Astra , and the Microsoft video game series Halo. The result is a psychotic hodgepodge of ingredients that don’t quite fit together, but the chef has added enough seasoning that you often won’t notice.
Don’t mistake my enjoyment of this film as an acknowledgment of its greatness. It’s a shit show, one that sees Patrick Wilson fly himself, Halle Berry, and John Bradley up the moon’s asshole to save the world and it’s one of the soberest, most straightforward scenes in the film. The laws of physics go out the window despite the onslaught of scientific jargon being hurled at the screen and we get a brief and glorious glimpse of Donald Sutherland before his character fades back into the darkness, his presence only there for a bit of exposition about government coverups and the downside to following orders. At one point the moon’s gravity assists a young gentleman benchpress a fallen elm tree to save himself.
And let’s talk about the moon, shall we? Equal parts hero and villain, it is truly the star of the film. One minute it is pulling the world apart, the next it is trying to save it. The inanimate object literally sneaks over the horizon like a little stinker squealing “I’m gonna getcha” at its victims. Something bizarre is afoot when a film this truly terrible can pull off making the Earth’s satellite equal parts Michael Meyers and the aliens from Interstellar , but most general audiences will be too exhausted from gleeful cackles to care.
The moon is helped along by a supporting cast of fairly quality performers, ranging from some of the old guards to newcomers that will only be known to certain fandoms. Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), a disgraced astronaut, teams up with megastructurist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) and Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry) to circumvent everyone from the United States government to alt-right terrorist thieves to save the world and the moon from…well, that’s going to remain a surprise. I still don’t understand the point of the appearances by Sutherland or Michael Peña, but they all give their all to their work.
That’s the real trick to making this bullshit sing. Everyone has to commit and give their all or it isn’t going to work, but we needn’t fear this time around as the entire cast has bought into Roland Emmerich’s insanity. The dialogue is an absolute travesty, with sentences uttered that took my breath away due to the sheer audacity of their ridiculousness. It takes a strong commitment to pull these characters off, but somehow most of them work (Charlie Plummer being the exception, an actor I’m usually in the pocket for).
But it doesn’t just take commitment from the performers, director, effects team, or Huayi Brothers International – it takes the audience. We know what we’re going for, and it isn’t brilliance. Instead, we come for what gleeful insanity we can cling to. Is it problematic that the hero of the film is an ignored, depressed, anxious YouTube conspiracy theorist that turns out to be right? Sure (in fact right now more than ever), but it’s charming onscreen. This and other problems fade into the crazy, mixed-up gravity as we all float away into the ether.
Moonfall is currently playing in theatres.