Some people might look up at the moon and admire its glowing and desolate beauty. Director Roland Emmerich apparently sees a constructed hollow orb that may have been built by aliens. Some of us will never gaze up at it the same after seeing his mind-blowing “Moonfall.”
Emmerich’s latest is an absolutely bananas piece of big-budget filmmaking, a sci-fi-, action- and disaster-thriller that gets more crazy by the minute. It makes “Independence Day” look like “Little Women.” “My freaking brain just exploded,” says one character, and who can complain?
“Moonfall” stars Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson as one-time astronauts who have to repair their strained friendship and save Earth when the moon gets unmoored from its orbit and starts coming frighteningly closer to us, wreaking havoc.
The film adds to these two gorgeous creatures the “Game of Thrones” actor John Bradley as a pudgy conspiracy whackadoodle with irritable bowel syndrome and a cat named Fuzz Aldrin who somehow also is pressed into saving the world.
Emmerich directs a script he co-wrote with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen and it comes close to camp, recalling ’90s disaster flicks like “Armageddon,” some high concept from “Interstellar,” some Emmerich DNA from “The Day After Tomorrow” and even call-backs to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes.”
“Moonfall” has all the hallmarks of a traditional popcorn sci-fi film — the grim military officers a little too ready with their nukes, a rag-tag group of heroes with their makeshift work-arounds, mathematical calculations made on the fly on a whiteboard and bombastic declarations like “I didn’t come this far to fail!” and “I want you to have a world you can grow up in.”
This time, Emmerich has to make the moon — our placid, ever-spinning pockmarked companion — into a menace and the filmmakers deliver: As it spins closer, the moon’s gravitational pull yanks up buildings and causes global tsunamis, called “gravity waves.” Chunks of moon rock shoot down like artillery fire.
The moon’s hazards only inflame the personal tensions between our heroes. Wilson plays an ex-astronaut who is broke, divorced and estranged from his teenage son after unfairly being fired by NASA. Berry’s character worries about her young son and tries to reason with her ex-husband, a Defense Department general with an itchy trigger finger. Both actors are not being asked to do much work here, but you didn’t show up for emoting, did you? The great Donald Sutherland has a really odd five-minute cameo, by the way.
After a bit of a slow start, “Moonfall” gets absolutely trippy in the last third as it details a mind-blowing alternative history to mankind that spans millennia and distant planets and backs it all up with gorgeous, massive special effects. Logic is abandoned altogether but few will care. “Everything we thought we knew about the universe has gone out the window,” someone says helpfully.
While our trio of astronauts are in the heavens trying to save Earth to stirring music using old fashioned know-how, on the ground is lots of messy human stuff like looting, car chases and gunfire. For some reason, everybody wants to flee to Colorado for safety.
There’s so much disaster here that it makes our little national health crisis these days look small and manageable. And maybe “Moonfall” can take our attention away from it for a few hours.
“Moonfall,” a Lionsgate release, is rated PG-13 for “violence, disaster action, strong language, and some drug use.” Running time: 124 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.