Moonfall is a disaster movie that starts slow, but when it gets going it is packed with action, incredible special effects and spooky tentacles emerging from a lunar crater. Despite the subject matter, the film succeeds in taking itself fairly seriously
All I wanted was to not be bludgeoned over the head with subtext. If I have to sit through one more not-so-subtle reframing of climate change or the pandemic as a different kind of disaster, I think I would scream. My neighbours can thank Roland Emmerich, then, for the relative peace while I watched Moonfall, give or take the bombastic sci-fi sound effects and occasional bursts of laughter.
Moonfall is vintage Emmerich, with notes of his 1996 film Independence Day, themes reminiscent of the 2014 film Interstellar and a few scenes that are very Star Wars. The famous Star Wars line “that’s no moon” would have fitted in perfectly. In fact, Moonfall is littered with references to science fiction both recent and classic.
John Bradley (Game of Thrones) has his star turn as K.C. Houseman, a conspiracy theorist-turned-hero who spots before anyone else that the moon seems to be falling towards Earth. Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson are also compelling as a NASA executive and a disgraced former astronaut, respectively. Donald Sutherland is fascinating and a little haunting as the keeper of NASA’s darkest secrets. If all these roles sound familiar to you, it is because this is classic sci-fi: every character is archetypical, and every sci-fi buzzword is present and accounted for.
That isn’t to say the film is predictable, and it certainly isn’t boring. It starts slow, but when it gets going it is packed with action, incredible special effects, spooky tentacles emerging from a lunar crater and the catchy line: “Save the moon, save Earth.” Somehow, despite the camp subject matter, the film succeeds in taking itself fairly seriously.
The science in Moonfall is largely plausible, although it is, of course, exaggerated for effect. It must be said, because this is a science publication, that the moon is in fact slowly receding from Earth and it would be nigh-on impossible to drag it closer. If it were coming closer at the rate portrayed in the film, Earth would almost certainly be destroyed – and most of what our heroes in the film attempt to do would be impossible for practical and geopolitical reasons. In fact, after the events of the movie the planet would almost certainly be uninhabitable.
There are a few irritations for those of us who follow real science. Some characters in the movie make arguments for space-related conspiracy theories that may at first glance seem almost convincing. But in real life, scientists are extraordinarily bad at keeping quiet about exciting discoveries. NASA is portrayed in an inexplicably negative light, while Elon Musk and his companies are mentioned with eye-rolling regularity to the point that it starts to feel like product placement.
But none of that matters when you are watching the moon rise over the horizon, so close to Earth that it is mowing down skyscrapers and dragging the sea into the sky. Thinking about plausibility feels like a waste of time when you could, instead, think about how the filmmakers animated some of the more impressive scenes.
Overall, Moonfall is good old-fashioned fun, an apocalypse movie that didn’t feel the need to remind us that we are living through apocalyptic times. If you have enjoyed any of the major space films of the past few decades and any of the Fast and the Furious movies, you will like it. The premise is pleasingly outlandish while mostly remaining believable, as is the plot. It has moments of humour, stretches of gripping action, gorgeous views and plenty of heart. I highly recommend it.