Mooning the World

moonfall‘s joyously liberating stupidity.

K.C. Houseman (John Bradley West), Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry), and Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) in Moonfall.

I’ll walk you out in the morning dew my honey /
I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway

— Bonnie Dobson, “Morning Dew”

What a little moonlight can do.

— Harry M. Woods

The new Roland Emmerich film Moonfall, like so many of his films, could care less if you think it is good or not. The plot is so absurd, the dialogue so shoddy, the premise so ridiculous that the entire movie breaks free of all constraints. The film is wonderfully bad, even tasteless. It is maybe the worst yet by Emmerich, and hence the best yet.

Moonfall rifles (or better said lasers) through every low-budget, B-movie, half-baked, science-fiction fantasy of the end of the world Hollywood has ever concocted. Every disaster-film cliche, every goofy dream of a Hollywood apocalypse appears, then just as quickly disappears. You want flooding waters? Check. You want outer space alien attack? Check. You want mountains crumbling? Check. You want cities laid waste? Got that covered too. The weird cuts in the editing of the film exaggerate the hodge-podge effect. The whole film teeters on its bits and bytes, as if the pixels might fall apart at any moment. This film auto-destructs. Watch out! Have fun dying, humans!

Current events hover over the film—if one can call this incoherent joke a film and not just a series of scenes—like the moon itself, which itself hovers ever closer to the earth with each sequence of footage. It starts to look suspiciously like the alien ships in Emmerich’s Independence Day. Maybe an effective re-use of some old special effects files? Just as the Persian Gulf War haunted that film from 1996, and just as 9/11 informed The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, so too Moonfall gestures, with fabulous laziness, to contemporary dilemmas. In particular, it proposes the futility of humans to reckon fully with climate change.

Just as crucially, the film plays with the au courant yet time-honored theme of the truth-teller no one will hear. A feeling of shouting into the breeze, or in this case into the vacuum of space, in a world in which no one will listen, pervades the movie. This is jeremiad at its best. There is the feeling of an America gone berserk, a mood of both conspiracies good (we smarties are in the know about the actual truth of the moon: it’s a “megastructure”!) and conspiracies bad (this was all hidden by the government during the original moon landing in 1969, as Donald Southerland tells us from a wheel chair in a dark laboratory that itself looks like it might be on the dark side of the moon itself). There’s an air of “truthiness” and Trumpiness to the whole film. Which is why its carefree ride into the sunset, I mean the moon glow, I mean, er, the megastructure built by aliens to combat a malignant AI that looks like it made its way into the film from the cutting floor of the Matrix, is so wonderful. It gloriously outruns the sordid presidential term of 2016 to 2020 with outlandish absurdities and a frank lack of interest in quality.

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson do their best with the awful dialogue to portray a bickering work couple reunited to save the day, but it is John Bradley West who steals the show as a bathetic scientist and mama’s boy who is convinced that the moon is actually indeed a “megastructure.” Humans, it turns out, have merely been launched like so much space junk into this larger galactic struggle, which has pulled the moon off its orbit and wreaks wonderfully bad special-effects havoc on cities around the globe. Berry and Wilson must save the day (and in a gratuitous subplot Wilson’s son, played by Charlie Plummer, and the husband of his ex-wife, played by Michael Peña, must do the same). It is West, however, who delivers just the right performance that this film requires.

With every ridiculous line he is forced to recite, West almost winks with delight at the audience. Just as he did to a lesser extent as Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones, in which he seemed to giggle at the silliness of the swords-and-spells story even as he played his part in it, so too in Moonfall West hams it up so wonderfully he almost breaks the fourth wall at times. The effect is a kind of emancipation. Disaster becomes a dream. The nightmare of contemporary times gets emptied of its terror and fear. Maybe us humans really are just the supporting cast in someone else’s epically farcical story of universal war and destruction. Let’s get over ourselves.

The moon, it turns out, is hollow. So too is this film. It doesn’t care a wit about being serious or smart or good or even convincing. Which makes it gloriously energizing and even, in a strange way, radically liberating. Maybe sometimes the end of the world can set you free.

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