Review: ‘Moonfall’ Is a Fun Mess With a Crash Landing

What if the moon was actually a megastructure? That’s one of the main questions that Moonfall poses and if you’re wondering exactly what a megastructure is, don’t expect for the movie to explain that well. Director and co-writer Roland Emmerich’s films are known for being dumb fun, the kind of good bad movie that you can enjoy even though it’s low quality. But Moonfall is a mess and while it’s certainly fun at times, the ending is its own disaster.

The science fiction film, co-written by Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen, actually has a strong first act. It starts in 2011 with astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) bickering like a married couple over the correct words to “Africa” by Toto. However, they’re soon attacked by an unknown force that kills another crew member and knocks Jo unconscious.

18 months later, Brian is in disgrace after going through a trial against NASA because no one believes him that human error or a normal space occurrence wasn’t the cause of the tragedy. His son, in particular, is struggling with his father’s fall from grace and when the film jumps forward to ten years later, it’s Sonny (Charlie Plummer) who is on a sharp decline as the teenager is being arrested after a high-speed car chase.

Both Brian and Jo are now divorced from their partners, but while Jo is a high-up NASA employee, Brian is a washed-up has-been, unable to pay his rent. Between Jo’s Defense Department ex-husband Doug (Eme Ikwuakor), Brian’s concerned ex-wife Brenda (Carolina Bartczak), and her new wealthy husband Tom (Michael Peña), there are a lot of characters to keep track of – perhaps more than this film can handle.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Meanwhile, K. C. Houseman (John Bradley) is a space enthusiast and self-described “megastructurist,” with a cat named Fuzz Aldrin and an ailing mother. He breaks into a professor’s office to get updated data on the moon’s orbit, convinced that the moon’s orbit has shifted. No one will listen to him on his theories about orbits or megastructures, perhaps because he has no credentials, and Brian brushes him off at first too. But when news breaks that the moon indeed has changed its course and will crash into the Earth within weeks, Brian reconnects with K. C. to try to get answers.

The film spends too long setting up its first section, even if it is arguably one of the better sections of the film, before the shoddy visual effects show up. In particular, it wastes time developing the character of K. C. even though Brian and Jo and the friends-to-enemies relationship between them are much more interesting. Bradley plays K. C. with an intensity that is, at times, uncomfortable to witness and makes the audience perfectly understand why no one has ever taken him seriously.

With everyone panicking about the upcoming demise of the planet and one failed mission to address the issue, Jo is promoted to Acting Director of NASA and is determined to find a solution. She contacts Brian to help her pilot a spacecraft to the moon to try to kill the strange being that he saw years before that she now acknowledges is real. In fact, she discovers through Holdenfield (a brief cameo by Donald Sutherland) that there has been a massive cover-up of information about the moon for decades.

While the military is rearing to send nukes to the moon (another parallel to Adam McKay’s recent Don’t Look Up), Jo and Brian mount their expedition. In return for his help, she gets Sonny released from prison and he, Jo’s son Jimmy (Zayn Maloney), and his exchange student nanny Michelle (Kelly Yu) drive off on their own adventure, trying to reach the bunker where Jimmy’s father is. If the inclusion of a Chinese exchange student nanny feels random, it might be due to the film being partially funded by a Chinese production company.

The rest of the film bounces between the kids on their own survival mission and Jo, Brian, and K. C. in space trying to save Earth. This is where things go completely off the rails and it is perhaps admirable that most of the cast is able to play it completely earnestly even when the dialogue is bonkers. Berry, in particular, gives a strong emotional performance in the film as a fierce businesswoman and loving mother.

The film is both humorous and overdramatic and, at times, a lot of fun. It’s completely unbelievable, making me wonder if the writers know much about space, science, or NASA, and the frequent positive mentions of SpaceX and Elon Musk make me question if they were involved in the funding of the movie.

The terrible script and drastic shift in the third act might be easier to excuse if the visual effects in the film weren’t so terrible. The movie is full of CGI, a lot of it bad, particularly with the tides sweeping over towns and the destruction of New York City. The film had a budget of over $145 million, making it one of the most expensive independent movies ever made, so you would expect the visuals to be better. Seeing it in IMAX was also a nauseating experience as there are several dizzying sequences and a lot of choppy camerawork.

Part space film, part survival movie, Moonfall is both about the threat of artificial intelligence and the importance of family. It’s nearly so bad that it’s good, but doesn’t quite reach that level. Wilson and Berry try their hardest to save it, but they’re dragged down by an overly convoluted story, bad visuals, and clunky dialogue. Moonfall might make you wish that the moon had crashed into the Earth so that this film couldn’t have been made.

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Image Credit: Lionsgate.



Part space film, part survival movie, Moonfall is both about the threat of artificial intelligence and the importance of family. It’s nearly so bad that it’s good, but doesn’t quite reach that level.


Nicole Ackman is a writer, podcaster, and historian based in North Carolina. She loves period dramas, the MCU, and theatre. Nicole is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and the Online Association of Female Film Critics and is Tomato-Meter Approved.