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By: Charles Bramesco
The more you think about it, the stranger it seems that we have no technical term for the moon. There’s plenty of incomprehensible jargon-speak in Roland Emmerich’s new obliteratathon Moonfall (not to mention a heaping helping of mumbo-jumbo waiting in the third act), but when the best-in-their field technical experts talk about the big rock in the sky trying to murder Earth, they use the same words we would.
After the first dozen utterances, the phrase “the moon” reaches the point of semantic satiation and sounds like nonsense noises, no different than if we renamed it “Zarble-7.” Yet soon after that, down-on-their-luck astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) refer to the moon with the familiarity one might extend to an old friend. That pesky moon! What’s it up to now?
The short answer is that its circular revolving path has tightened into a spiral that ends with planetary annihilation, a gravely serious predicament at odds with the overall atmosphere of dumbbell delirium. That juncture where the silly meets the sublime also happens to be Emmerich’s sweet spot, his mass-destruction maximalism held together by the often-tedious tracts of hare-brained convolution that constitute the story.
He’s among the best at what he does, more adept with macro-scaled CGI than the scads of indie-circuit alumni stuck into the franchise meatgrinder by executives at Marvel-Disney-Corp. Virtues we took for granted as recently as ten years ago — spatial coherency, clarity and consistency of color — are now elevated by the lowered bar to a place of conscious appreciation.
We kill time between the cataclysmic set pieces with an ensemble of bores meant to offer a multitude of perspectives on the anti-gravity geysers of upward water and the lethal meteor showers. Brian and Jo must bring along the dweeby conspiracy theorist K.C. (John Bradley) for his expertise in “megastructures” and, presumably, to deliver feeble one-liners.
On the ground, Brian and Jo’s respective ex-spouses Brenda (Carolina Bartczak) and Doug (Eme Ikwuakor) scramble on separate fronts to forestall the apocalypse, with a telling contempt from the screenwriters reserved for Brenda’s new husband Tom (Michael Peña, reduced here to shilling for Lexus). Elsewhere, Brian’s ne’er-do-well son (Charlie Plummer) and a random Chinese woman (Kelly Yu, the purpose of her presence in the film unclear besides sweetening the deal for financiers at Huayi Brothers) must stave off the roving gangs of marauders that rule the shattered world.
It’s all very stupid, if only sometimes in an amusing way. The draggy leadup to the climactic rescue mission in low orbit often gets tangled in a seeming unawareness of how anything works; not NASA, which appears to be a shoestring operation made up of a few people; not American geography, warped to allow instantaneous cross-country passage between cuts; and not Donald Sutherland, literally wheeled out for one scene that feels airdropped in from another universe’s cut of this film.
Sutherland’s wild-eyed exposition-dispenser is of a piece with the transcendently absurd info-dumps that explain what’s afoot with this whole moon situation during the final half-hour. They’re the best kind of idiotic, the sort that can use the gravitational pull of the beautiful, terrible moon to slingshot itself back to inspiration.
If only Emmerich could harness the inherent humor of the po-faced earnestness with which he regards the end of the world, his life’s great muse. In sporadic dribs and drabs, it’s not quite enough to sustain the film’s two lugubrious hours. Another thought occurs to the critic: the knee-jerk laughter every time someone says “the moon” could’ve just been a defense mechanism against boredom.
Time to finally get to the bottom of what’s going on with this damned moon.
No one incinerates the Earth quite like Roland Emmerich.
The moon is innocent!
Originally posted on Little White Lies