Halle Berry in Roland Emmerich’s ‘Moonfall’: Film Review

The Oscar winner stars alongside Patrick Wilson as astronauts desperately attempting to save the world in the genre specialist’s latest sci-fi disaster epic.

The world can’t end soon enough in director Roland Emmerich’s latest attempt to re-create the sci-fi/disaster-movie mayhem that he conjured successfully in such films as Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Featuring many of the same grandiose elements as those predecessors, Moonfall looks and sounds like a would-be cinematic blockbuster but comes up painfully short in its ham-fisted execution. Filled with unintentional humor, the film seems inevitably destined for exposure on a future incarnation of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

A prologue introduces us to two of the main characters, astronauts Jo (Halle Berry) and Brian (Patrick Wilson, reuniting with the director after Midway), first seen bantering about the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa” while on a NASA repair mission. Just as they’re debating the phrase “I bless the rains down in Africa,” a mysterious swarm of, well, something, attacks their spaceship, sending a hapless colleague to his death in perpetual orbit.


The Bottom Line

Don’t get caught between this moon and New York City.

Release date: Friday, Feb. 4
Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, Donald Sutherland
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenwriters: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen

Rated PG-13,
2 hours 4 minutes

Cut to 10 years later, when Brian, who was somehow blamed for the event, has been drummed out of NASA in disgrace while Jo has risen to the top ranks. Brian has personal problems as well; his former wife (Carolina Bartczak) is now remarried to a smarmy businessman (Michael Peña, wasted in a humorless role), and his teenage son Sonny (Charlie Plummer) gets arrested on drug charges after a high-speed chase with cops. When Brian shows up in the courtroom to lend support, he only winds up alienating the judge and making Sonny’s plight worse.

If all of this seems a bit much in terms of plot detail, it’s indicative of the overly cluttered nature of the screenplay co-written by Emmerich with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen, which throws in so many superfluous characters and incidents that the two-hour movie seems much, much longer than it is.

I haven’t even gotten to another main character, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley, Game of Thrones), so relentlessly and annoyingly quirky that he seems destined either to become the film’s hero or one of its chief casualties, or both. A university janitor who frequently takes advantage of his workplace to impersonate its professors, K.C. is an amateur scientist convinced that the Moon’s orbit is about to shift, with disastrous implications for Earth.

And wouldn’t you know it, he’s exactly right, although it seems to take forever for Brian and Jo to get with the program and join forces to prevent the calamity. Jo suddenly becomes elevated to head of NASA (don’t ask), which enables her immediately to commandeer a spaceship and embark on a planet-saving mission with Brian and K.C. The latter hopes to make his dementia-addled mother proud, despite being nervous about going into space because he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome.

Of course, they’re not fast enough to prevent the process from happening. The Moon, which has apparently become a “megastructure,” begins wreaking gravitational havoc, causing a series of floods and earthquakes and the like. Cue the best miniatures that disaster-movie money can buy, though they never manage to be convincing despite what appears to be a generous special effects budget.

Meanwhile, apparently operating under the theory that a mere space mission to save the planet from extinction doesn’t provide enough in the way of excitement, the film throws in another gratuitous subplot involving Sonny, who, accompanied by Jo’s adorable young son (Zayn Maloney) and the boy’s nanny (Wenwen Yu), races through snowy Colorado in a desperate attempt at survival, encountering violent criminal types along the way.

By the time the story reaches its out-there conclusion — involving aliens’ ability to channel our inner thoughts in order to communicate with us in terms we can understand — it’s become clear that the screenwriters have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey too many times.

This might all have been palatable if Moonfall generated any real electricity or flair. But Emmerich, who’s previously demonstrated his greater artistic ambitions with such efforts as Anonymous and Stonewall, seems to be going through the motions.

The same can be said of Berry, who sleepwalks through the proceedings as if wondering why she’s there. Of course, you can’t blame her, considering she’s saddled with such lines as “Everything we thought we knew about the nature of the universe is out the window.” Wilson and Bradley at least bring some conviction to their performances, although mostly for naught. And Donald Sutherland shows up in a cameo, briefly delivering the same sort of intense energy he brought to Oliver Stone’s JFK.


Full credits

Production companies: Centropolis Entertainment, Street Entertainment, AGC Studios, Huayi Brothers International, Huayi Tencent Entertainment International
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, Donald Sutherland
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenwriters: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen
Producers: Harald Kloser, Roland Emmerich
Executive producers: John Paul "JP" Pettinato, Marco Shepherd, Carsten Lorenz, Spenser Cohen, Ute Emmerich, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei, Hu Junyi, Raymond Hau, Edward Cheng, Viviana Vezzani, Karl Spoerri, Stuart Ford, Alastair Burlingham, Gary Roskin
Director of photography: Robby Baumgartner
Production designer: Kirk M. Petrucelli
Editors: Adam Wolfe, Ryan Stevens Harris
Composers: Thomas Wander, Harald Kloser
Costume designer: Mario Davignon
Casting: John Papsidera, Andrea Kenyon, Randi Wells

Rated PG-13, 2 hours 4 minutes