Moonfall Review: Roland Emmerich Ends The World Yet Again With His Latest Silly, Enjoyable Sci-Fi Epic

Nobody kills us all like Roland Emmerich. For over 25 years, Emmerich has been ending the world in elaborate, creative ways (taking a brief break from mass obliteration in 2011 to helm the flawed-but-fun "Shakespeare is a fraud!" flick "Anonymous"). You would think at some point Emmerich would run out of ways to blow up the planet, but time and time again, he returns with some new feat of mass destruction. Emmerich's latest extinction-level event is "Moonfall," a film that dares to ask, "What if the Moon fell?" Yes, our only natural satellite is on a collision course with Earth, and before it gets here, all sorts of destruction will rain down across the globe. Gravity changes, sea levels rise, and lots of stuff explodes. But Emmerich has more up his sleeve here than the traditional disaster pic shenanigans. The filmmaker, working with a script he co-wrote with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen, also gets to flex his penchant for wild conspiracy theories, and ends up churning out a film that feels heavily indebted to Brian De Palma's somewhat forgotten 2000 sci-fi movie "Mission to Mars." 

At this point in Emmerich's career, you know what you're getting into when you sit down to watch one of his films. And it's probably safe to assume that you're either still on board with the director's love for obliteration, or you're sick and tired of it all. "Moonfall" is unlikely to change any of that — it is, for better or worse, a new Roland Emmerich disaster movie. But there's something to be said about a director who keeps hammering the same thing home over and over again, as if Emmerich is a sculptor meticulously chiseling a work of art until he finally gets it right. There's that old adage that insanity means "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results," and to Emmerich's credit, no matter how often he smashes and blows up and drowns and freezes the planet, he's clearly hoping to achieve different things each time. He's not telling the same story again and again — he's just using familiar methods. And perhaps I'm just a sucker and a chump because if I'm being honest, I always manage to get a kick out of watching Emmerich unleash a new apocalypse. 

In "Moonfall," astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) are on a mission on the Space Shuttle when they witness ... something. It's a strange, seemingly unexplainable phenomenon in space that seems to emanate from the Moon. Whatever it is, it trashes the ship, knocks Jo unconscious, and kills the clearly expendable third member of the crew. Only Brian witnesses it all — and manages to land the ruined Shuttle safely, too. Rather than be hailed a hero, though, Brian is labeled a nut for talking about mysterious space stuff. And Jo, having been asleep for most of the ordeal, is unable to back Brian up. Bummer.

Conspiracy Theories

Several years later, Jo has been promoted to a top position at NASA while Brian's life is a mess. He's divorced from his wife (Carolina Bartczak) and estranged from his trouble-making teen son (Charlie Plummer), and he ekes out a living giving talks to bored schoolchildren. But something big is about to happen to give Brian's life purpose again. Can you guess what it is? I'll give you a hint: it involves a certain Moon ... falling. Yes, the Moon has left its orbit and is headed right for us — although no one seems to notice at first. No one, that is, except comic-relief conspiracy theorist K. C. Houseman (John Bradley), the type of guy who dreams of being a famous astronaut and has a kitten named Fuzz Aldrin to hammer that point home. 

Emmerich has a long history of conspiracy theory characters who turn out to be right. His aforementioned non-disaster movie "Anonymous" turns the conspiracy theory that Shakespeare didn't write his own plays from wild speculation to fact. And when it comes to his disaster pics, there's Randy Quaid as a loon who turns out to be right in "Independence Day," and there's Woody Harrelson as a nutjob who knows what's up in "2012." Even "Stargate" is based around the conspiracy theory that aliens helped build the pyramids. There's something to be said about Emmerich's conspiracy theory love, especially in this day and age, where conspiracy theories have seemingly increased, leaving the fringe and entering into the mainstream in the process (remember when we had an insane President who tweeted out conspiracy theories just a few years ago? I sure do; it sucked). 

Is Emmerich suggesting he buys into all this stuff, or is he just having fun? It's hard to say, and it remains an uneasy element of his filmography. Bradley's Houseman might be Emmerich's most prominent conspiracy theorist yet. While his previous characters in this mold tend to play small supporting roles, Houseman is a full-blown main character, and often the smartest guy in the room — even when he's in a room full of NASA scientists. Houseman turns to Brian first, and soon the both of them have teamed up with Jo to save the world — although there might not be that much of the world left to save in the end, since the Moon's road to Earth causes all sorts of disastrous problems. 

F**k the Moon!

It probably would've been enough for Emmerich to simply make "Moonfall" about the Moon smashing into Earth. Instead, he's setting the stage for a truly kooky third act that reveals the Moon isn't what we think it is. No, this isn't merely some hunk of cold, dead rock. Houseman has a theory that the Moon is actually a hollow Megastructure — which immediately begs the question: who, or what, is lurking inside? I won't give away anything more (although you can probably figure it out on your own), but this section of "Moonfall" is likely to make or break the picture for you. If you were hoping for more world-destroying "Independence Day" action and little else, you might be a little miffed with the weirder stuff Emmerich is doing here. Then again, you might be completely on board with the junk food theories he's trafficking in.

And even if you're not, it's hard not to at least have a little fun with most of "Moonfall." Bradley's comic relief character spouts off a little too much, but he still manages to garner laughs. And Wilson's down-on-his-luck astronaut Brian is a likable enough main character. Kelly Yu makes an impression as a nanny who gets swept up in the adventure, and Donald Sutherland has a weird but enjoyable blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo. Michael Peña is predictably fun as the new husband of Brian's wife; he comes across as a jerk at first until he (predictably) redeems himself. Only Berry seems out of place here; she never is able to get on the same odd wavelengths that flow through "Moonfall." But let's get real: no one sits down to watch "Moonfall" for the performances. They want to see destruction, and on that front, Emmerich delivers. 

He also stages some big set pieces, including a car chase (!) with crazy cult members (!!) while fireballs rain down (!!!) and the Earth's gravity comes and goes (!!!!). The impending apocalypse leads to predictable social unrest — and in Emmerich's mind, that means angry citizens take time out of their doomed lives to go spray paint "F**K THE MOON" on the side of the grounded Space Shuttle. That's the type of silly detail that makes "Moonfall" sing, as is a line of dialogue later that has a grim-faced general telling us, "The military is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop the Moon!" Good to know!

There's room for "Moonfall" to launch an entire franchise, but I'm not sure that's the best move. I'd much rather have Emmerich move on to yet another new movie about destroying Earth. I'm not sure how many more ways the filmmaker can end the world at this point, but I'm sure he'll think of something. And I will happily watch it. 

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10