Roland Emmerich has never exactly been a director that anyone could call subtle. The German filmmaker has made a career out of making giant blockbusting disaster pictures, all of which see the planet decimated to the brink of human extinction. Emmerich’s latest venture, Moonfall is no exception, though he raises the stakes even further by placing not only Earth, but also the moon in peril.
Having guided characters through fighting off two separate alien invasions, a doomsday apocalypse, and a severe bout of global warning induced weather rage, many wondered if Emmerich was done with the disaster flick. Moonfall quickly established that the director will never fail to get a kick out of destroying the world on film, and whilst by no means original, Moonfall is a lot a fun. Having spent the best part of thirty years perfecting his own take on the end of days, Moonfall plays as a best of compilation of all of Emmerich’s former work. There’s the extreme weather and a potential extraterrestrial threat, combing his most popular two films Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, which ensures maximum potential for unfathomable damage to unfold.
It’s not just the action that feels familiar, the whole structure and stock of characters are lifted straight out of other projects. There’s the string of broken families (ready to be made whole again in the face of all this adversity), the crack-pot scientist (played here by Game of Thrones star John Bradley) and the cute animal (a surly cat named Fuzz Aldrin). By recycling character types, plot structures, and emotional beats, Emmerich gets the viewer caught up quickly, allowing the director more time for his favourite past-time – killing the planet.
Those with a grasp of science may need to keep reminding themselves that it’s only a movie as to drill into any of the information uttered by the characters or the realism of the set pieces in Moonfall may bring on a stupefied coma. None of the actual science is grounded that heavily in reality and once accepted that it isn’t meant to make sense, enjoyment can begin. Much of this comes from laughing at, rather than with, the film, but the white-knuckle roller-coaster feelings during the long action pieces help hold things together. No one obliterates Earth quite as well as Emmerich and the scenes here are the usual heightened high-stakes silliness that will get the audience simultaneously clapping and shaking their head in disbelief. The action is junk-food for the soul, injecting a sugar-rush directly into the brain, that is in spite of the familiar and flimsy plot keeps you hooked to the ridiculous feats that are happening. It’s a tried and tested formula that Emmerich is happy to keep recycling, and one whose scale that films like those from the Fast and Furious franchise are desperately trying to reach (cars in space anyone?).
Treading where the likes of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, John Cusack and Dennis Quaid have before, Patrick Wilson is the latest to step into the shoes of the hero to save the world. Wilson is no stranger to the action genre, having appeared in Aquaman and The A-Team, but rather being a side character or part of a large ensemble of leads, here he forms the central point of attention. It’s not entirely a one-man show however; the story expands out to include conspiracy theorist KC Housemann (Bradley) and fellow NASA employee Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry). Brian’s road to redemption just inches out the other two, to pull the focus a little more. Wilson does a great job in action mode and proves that there could be a career within this arena should his horror projects ever dry up.
As much fun as Wilson, Berry, and Bradley are clearly having floating around in space, outside of their characters there are few others to cling onto. Following the Emmerich disaster movie conventions to a tee; the narrative splits off and follows those connected to the main trio as they battle for survival whilst awaiting rescue. This worked especially well in The Day After Tomorrow with most Dennis Quaid and on-screen son Jake Gyllenhaal being interesting characters to spend time with, Moonfall seeks to replicate this father-son rift, but it’s so diluted here that it doesn’t pay off as it should. Brian’s son, handily named Sonny, isn’t fleshed out well enough prior to the disaster so the viewer is never as invested in his journey to survive as the script obviously hopes.
Speaking of the script, it feels as if an artificial intelligence has written parts of it, the lines are clunky and sound strange; even the talents of Wilson, Berry, and Michael Peña (who has a supporting role within Brian’s extended family) struggle to wrap their tongues around them. The almost farcical dialogue keeps Moonfall planted firmly in the cheesy B-movie camp meaning it can never reach the heady heights of the disaster gold standard of Emmerich’s own Independence Day.
After all these disaster films, one has to ask themselves, ‘what exactly did the planet ever do to Roland Emmerich?’ His latest venture reaches for the moon and brings it down on civilisation. The cast are clearly having a ball playing in this insane sandbox; the audience will too. Disengage the brain and let the madness wash over you and you’re in for two hours of the kind of bold, brash, and overly loud nonsense that popcorn and multiplexes were made for. Moonfall is candy carnage at its sweetest.
Moonfall is in UK cinemas now.