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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Moonfall’ on HBO Max, a Sci-fi Disaster Epic That Finds Roland Emmerich Back to Moronic Form

With Moonfall (now on HBO Max), director Roland Emmerich returns to what he knows all too well: dumbass cliche-ridden disaster spectacles. After 2012The Day After Tomorrow two Independence Days and the execrable 1997 Godzilla, he gives us this doozy, in which Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson bear down and try to stop the moon from crashing into Earth. Oh boy. Will the movie try to maim us with CGI? Will it feature characters dealing with all manner of banal Regular-Life Challenges in the face of impending planetary destruction? Will it make us laugh or will it make us roll our eyes or will it make us shift impatiently in our seats while we look at our watches? Or, most importantly, will I need to invoke the immortal Geostorm? I’m afraid I may have to.

MOONFALL: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: Once upon a time, in 2011, a year before 2012 and in a different timeline than 2012, a Space Shuttle mission manned by Jocinda Fowler (Berry) and Brian Harper (Wilson) went kerflooey. Something crashed into the craft, knocking Fowler unconscious and killing an astronaut, leaving Harper to heroically pilot the damaged shuttle back safel. And yet, he was blackballed, because nobody believes him when he says they were attacked by SPACE TENTACLES. We can confirm: We also see the SPACE TENTACLES as well as a MOON TORNADO on the Moon, so something is clearly up with the Moon. But that’s all too crazy to be plausible to people on terra firma.

A decade passes. J.C. Houseman (John Bradley of Game of Thrones fame) is a fringe type who believes the Moon is a hollow, artificial megastructure built by aliens. Plausible? Could be! And his data tells him that the Moon has shifted out of orbit, a completely true fact independently confirmed by NASA, where a man at a bank of computers sez they “ran the numbers” and “triple-checked” them, even! Fowler is a higher-up at NASA now, but Harper is divorced as all hell and ripping NOTICE TO VACATE signs off his door, NOTICE TO VACATE signs that might go away if he sold the badass vintage muscle car he always tinkers with. I mean, it’s gotta be worth five or six bills at least. Although none of that may matter at all now that news of the Moon’s impending kerthunk into Earth breaks. All hell breaks loose amidst constant TV reports on “mounting Moon terror,” which sounds like something you need to take seriously. There’s looting, civil unrest, wind, meteors and, more crucially – to this plot, anyway – extreme prickliness among Harper and his ex (Carolina Bartczak) and their troubled son (Charlie Plummer) and her new husband (a hopefully highly compensated Michael Pena).

Houseman is absolutely certain he knows what’s causing the “mounting Moon terror.” His whole life has been leading up to this. However, you’ll no doubt be shocked to learn that everyone at NASA thinks he’s the most cracked pot in the rubbled remains of a looted Bed Bath and Beyond. As chaotical pandelerium consumes civilization, Houseman worries about his dementia-stricken mother and connects with the disenfranchised Harper while the head of NASA bails and leaves the keys to Fowler. Inevitably, this ragtag trio hauls a graffitied Space Shuttle – amusingly, F— THE MOON is scrawled across the side – out of a museum so they can follow a plan to launch an EMP bomb at the SPACE TENTACLES while a concurrent military mission to NUKE THE MOON, involving Fowler’s military-brass ex-husband (Eme Ikwuakor), recklessly proceeds. Will whatever’s left of humanity be saved, specifically the family members of the principal characters, and does all this have something to do with the origins of everything? NUKE THE SPOILERS!

Photo: ©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: MelancholiaGreenlandThe Wandering EarthFirst ManApollo 10 ½, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Moon, A Trip to the Moon, Amazon Women on the Moon, Fly Me to the Moon, the moon scenes in Ad Astra, the kilt-lifting scene in Braveheart, all the aforementioned Emmerich films (especially 2012) and yes, indeed, of course, without further ado, Geostorm, baby!

Performance Worth Watching: Rarely one to not overact, Berry reigns it in a bit despite the loony dialogue and does what she can to keep this thing from flying off the rails. She’s only one person, though.

Memorable Dialogue: Fowler: “Everything we know about the nature of the universe just went out the window!” (Must be a pretty big window.)

Sex and Skin: None. So much Moon, not nearly enough mooning.

Our Take: I know you’re going to ask, so I figure I’ll just head you off at the pass: John Cusack outrunning a fissure with a limousine in 2012 is as dumb as people outdriving meteoric destruction in Moonfall, but neither is as dumb as Jake Gyllenhaal outrunning the deadly frost in The Day After Tomorrow. (Also, I’m not sure anything was, is or ever will be as dumb as Jake Gyllenhaal outrunning the deadly frost in The Day After Tomorrow. Maybe Mark Wahlberg outrunning the wind in The Happening? The fact that I couldn’t tell if we ever saw the actual geostorm in Geostorm? This could be debated.)

Moonfall is right in line with every other intelligence-defying, synapse-frying, masses-dying apocalyptic spectacle in the Emmerich canon. It’s expensive, impressive in its visual effects and crisply edited and paced. But it’s also soulless and empty, a noisy dash from one end of the preposterous plot to the other. Par for the course then, but it makes two fatal errors: One, it renders the alien SPACE TENTACLES a gormless CGI wad that’s supposed to be existentially threatening, but is about as scary as the old cheese log moldering in the back of the fridge. And two, it thinks its nutballs sequence of escalating sci-fi plot developments is way farther out there than it really is, playing out like an idiotic Interstellar. We shouldn’t be underwhelmed by the end of the world, but leave it to Emmerich to find a way.

Our Call: Quoth Kurt Vonnegut: “Go take a flying f— at a rolling doughnut. Why don’t you take a flying f— at the moooooooon?” SKIP IT.

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