by Matt Fleming. “What if the moon fell?” It’s as simple a premise as any, one that could have been generated by either an unaffected child’s mind or a drum circle of red-eyed stoners. On its dusty, gray surface, Moonfall seems just that: An amateur improv exercise run amok. Such is the world as directed by Roland Emmerich, where Earth is always on the brink of global calamity—you know, aliens, heavy snow, the Mayan calendar. The moon run amok is a logical progression for the would-be Spielberg of B-movies, especially with a cast willing to “yes-and” its plot for two hours. But if you think you’re sitting down for a fun popcorn movie about the moon falling from the sky, get ready for your expectations to crater. 

Before walking into a theater to see Moonfall, you have to weigh the value of watching a fantastical and fictional disaster versus the daily catastrophe of modern life. Disaster movies often coincide with real-world calamities: The Towering Inferno came toward the end of the Vietnam War, The Day After Tomorrow was mired in the Iraq War, and 2012 followed the 2008 financial crisis. The latter two are among those directed by Moonfall’s auteur, the German “master of disaster,” who is re-entering outer space for the first time since his awful, 20-years-too-late sequel to Independence Day. In this universe, the moon is the misfortune that’s right in our faces, like a deadly virus or a neighbor in a MAGA hat.

Emmerich sets his latest bombastic end-of-the-world flick in a maskless alternate universe where NASA makes more headlines than the ubiquitous Elon Musk. In the opening scene (set ten years before the events of the story), we meet the film’s emotional anchors: Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) and Brian Harper (Patrick “Ed Warren” Wilson), two astronauts at the center of a space crisis that ultimately sends both on polar-opposite paths. Fowler becomes a respected second-in-command at NASA and Harper is a disgraced, mildly-alcoholic deadbeat dad.

On the other side of the scientific spectrum comes KC Houseman (John Bradley, formerly Samwell Tarly of Game of Thrones), a conspiratorial “mega-structuralist” who believes that Earth’s best friend is actually an alien satellite in disguise. Between the professionals and amateurs, it is quite suddenly realized that the moon’s orbit has changed drastically and the heavenly body is on course for a swift collision with our planet. The lunacy only grows from there.  

Unlike previous Emmerich doomsday films, the chaos and destruction seem mild and contained (borderline restrained), eschewing exhilarating beats such as the White House explosion of Independence Day for anti-gravity tsunamis and apocalyptic mountain views that look pretty. Instead of the obligatory scenes of world destruction, we’re stuck between the moon and a dull place: A major chunk of Moonfall is devoted to a B-plot blended family drama that, I think, is supposed to serve as character redemption-by-proxy for Berry and Wilson’s poor parenting. (The saddest part of the side mission is the miscasting of Michael Peña as a stodgy stepdad.) By the time Moonfall reaches its cosmic climax, the stakes feel far lower than previous Emmerich disaster-porn. Instead of, say, offering a hackneyed warning about climate change à la Don’t Look Up, it plays like a farcical lullaby for a world bored of mayhem but overwhelmed with distractions. 

Moonfall also lacks the gravity of its award-nominated counterpart’s celebrity. Berry and Wilson, the film’s biggest stars, spend most of their time together in space, isolated from their supporting cast who struggle with earthbound dilemmas. In what could be a breakthrough role, Bradley translates his Westerosi nerdiness into amusing (if irksome) conspiracy folk-heroics, and lost in the mix is a surprising cameo by Donald Sutherland (who’s no stranger to the apocalypse). As far as disaster movie prestige is concerned, it seems Moonfall spent most of its $140 million-dollar budget on its flashy visual effects. 

If nothing else, Moonfall is the most meme-able piece of crisis-themed cinema since Snakes on a Plane, with its Mad Libs-inspired premise and crackpot conclusion (which is sure to motivate the conspiratorial crowd). But in terms of the cataclysm canon? Armageddon, this ain’t. Emmerich seems comfortable working with mass destruction, but Moonfall can’t skate by on premise and bombast alone. Unfortunately for everyone involved, especially the audience, this moon is made of rotten cheese.

Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Produced by Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser.
Written by Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen.
Starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, and Donald Sutherland.

Rated PG-13 for moon-based shenanigans and other, far-less frightening catastrophes.