The title spills the beans. In this sci-fi thread, the filmmakers were not happy enough with a natural disaster: the moon hurtling towards Earth. They had to add an outrageous AI storyline that makes what could have been a dignified, slightly believable, catastrophic, action-packed movie a joke.
The idea for this lunar drama is the brainchild of director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”), who can produce big-budget disaster movies in his sleep. We take the moon/planets for granted and assume that they will remain in our solar system forever. But what if that assumption goes awry? The moon on a collision course with Earth has built-in doomsday implications — plot devices that are the basis of countless action-adventure movies. And, in these days of COVID-19 when nations have mobilized globally, a universal call to action — or otherwise — could capture the imagination of genre-loving moviegoers.
NASA Deputy Director Jocinda ‘Jo’ Fowler (Halle Berry, “Monster’s Ball”) and astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, “Aquaman,” “Midway”) once flew on a space mission in 2011. An incident , where a mysterious force enveloped them, caused the death of a crew member. Harper was blamed for the death and kicked out of NASA. Fowler kept her job and was promoted.
Years later, in 2021, the moon appears to have deviated from its path and descended. First to spot danger is a chubby, outcast space nerd, KC Houseman (John Bradley, “Game of Thrones”), who whimpers to his elderly mother, “No one will listen to me.” Mom: “Then do them!” A last minute emergency mission is planned to fix the lunar nightmare. Fowler, Harper and the unlikely KC set off on a journey in a mothballed space shuttle to save humanity. Gravity waves, tsunamis and perilous escape attempts.
If the screenplay, by Emmerich, Harald Kloser (“The Day After Tomorrow”) and Spenser Cohen, had stood on its own well enough, it might not have drawn the sneers and sideways eyes of the audience. As it is, the wacky storytelling becomes ridiculous and silly. Adding “mysterious intelligent enmity” to the equation, the 1969 moon landing conspiracies, and other nonsense doesn’t elevate the creepy premise – it devalues it.
Plenty of special effects spill over sci-fi elements that help distract from the sticky narrative and keep eyeballs glued to the screen. Some shots of outer space and the interior of the moon are stunning (cinematographer Robby Baumgartner, “There Will Be Blood,” “The Hunger Games”). The use of sounds (Phil Brewster, theatrical mix tec) and thundering music (Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker) whips the emotions into frenzy.
Minus a few time lags (editors Ryan Stevens Harris and Adam Wolfe), the 2 hour 20 minute runtime doesn’t feel long at all – even when the movie jumps to ACT IV. Spacecraft interiors and NASA observation rooms are dazzling (Kirk M. Petruccelli production design, “Blade”, “The Incredible Hulk”). Tidal waves too. But too many Earth scenes look incredibly fake (fake snowy mountain locations).
Most of the energy level shortcomings can be blamed on an overabundance of supporting characters and a threadbare gimmick of “broken families” floundering: Brian’s son (Charlie Plummer), ex-wife (Carolina Bartczak) and the son’s stepfather (Michael Peña). Jo’s young son (Zayn Maloney), his nanny (Kelly Yu) and Jo’s ex (Eme Ikwuakor). Despite cliched dialogue, Berry is solid, Wilson is suitably rebellious, and Bradley, while the quirky “sky is falling,” makes for a surprising antihero people might love.
What could have been a respectable sci-fi/adv/fan movie could end up winning Razzie awards. It shouldn’t be like this. Why aim for the stars when the moon is enough?