Moonfall Review: A Star-Studded (But Not Out Of This World) Space Romp

A shot of three astronauts floating in space as they look at the moon eclipsing Earth — with the film’s title ‘Moonfall’ laid over the top

Last week, to a cosmic chorus of oohs and aahs, NASA published a series of stunning shots taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the most powerful space observatory in human history. “Prepare for a new way to see the universe,” they said, pulling back the curtain on time to unveil an otherworldly glimpse at the universe 13.5 billion years ago. “Beyond where we’ve been, beyond what we know, beyond time itself.”

The release of these incredible images got me fired up for something set in space, so I scrolled through my ‘to watch’ list and the first I landed on was Moonfall. This 2022 sci-fi disaster movie sees two former astronauts — Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), disgraced after a botched mission years earlier, and Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry), somehow now NASA’s Deputy Director — team up with lovable conspiracy theorist, KC Houseman (basically John Bradley’s Game of Thrones character, Samwell Tarly, in a tinfoil hat).

Together, the unlikely trio discover the hidden truth about our moon after its orbit shifts dramatically, putting it on a collision course with Earth. The question, naturally, is: can they save the day?

I checked out a couple of reviews before pressing play, only to discover that, when Moonfall dropped, it was met with considerably less joy from fans and journalists than the JWST pics. Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian, not known for mincing his words, called the one-star flick “gibberish big-budget folly,” while Empire’s John Nugent awarded the “deeply, defiantly, sometimes exasperatingly daft” blockbuster a slightly more generous two stars.

A shot of Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson wearing space suits as they stand in snow in front of their space craft.

In spite of the negative press — I’ll make up my own mind, thank you very much — I gave Moonfall a shot. The cast, which also featured Donald Sutherland and Michael Peña, was stellar enough to reel me in.

Straight off the bat though, I’ll admit that Bradshaw and Nugent (and most other critics too) weren’t wrong. The movie is immensely splashy and totally bonkers, but hey, it’s by Roland ‘The Master of Disaster’ Emmerich, the German filmmaker behind other high-concept space flicks like Independence Day and Stargate. So, should we have expected anything less? Na.

His latest creation hits all the usual beats, but it may lean into madness to such an extent that it earns the ‘so bad it’s good’ label. Any B-movie fans care to weigh in here? So, is Moonfall an objectively great film? Absolutely not. Is it a lot of fun? Indeed it is, but there are some important caveats to keep in mind. Spoilers incoming, by the way.

Across its relatively lengthy 130-min running time, the movie explores some of the same interesting themes around the human relationship with tech that I touch upon in my book AI by Design. But it does so with little finesse. Let’s just say that, to embrace this film in all its schlocky glory, absolute suspension of disbelief is mandatory — as is waving goodbye to even the slightest expectation of carefully-crafted dialogue that Emmerich and his co-writers don’t ram down viewers’ throats.

A shot of the moon dangerously close to Earth as it wreaks havoc on Washington DC — there are fires everywhere and smoke rises from them into the sky.

To illustrate all of the above, let’s get back to that hidden truth discovered by the protagonists. Turns out the moon is actually — wait for it — an artificial megastructure. KC knew it all along, of course, but nobody would listen to the so-called crackpot until he found the same courage as his hero, SpaceX founder Elon Musk. “What would Elon do?” he asks at one point.

The lunar megastructure was made billions of years ago by a thriving civilisation, far more technologically advanced than us, as a space ark where humanity would be repopulated after a rogue AI started hunting humans. The flashback scenes depicting this catastrophic event are especially enjoyable, but the voiceover…oh dear.

“The AI suddenly became self-aware and transformed into countless swarms of nano-technology that rose up all at once, refusing to be enslaved by a species it deemed inferior,” explains a creepy, child-like “construct” of Harper’s mind (played by young actor Azriel Dalman with genuinely Oscar-worthy sincerity).

To fully appreciate the comic bombast of this line, it really must be heard. If you don’t come for the awesome Hollywood roster on a silly, rip-roaring mission to save Earth, then please come for this one line alone. Oh, and a cat called Fuzz Aldrin! Check out the trailer below.

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Catriona Campbell

Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com