Moonfall review

Roland Emmerich shoots for the moon, but his aim is off...

A still from the movie Moonfall from Lionsgate with two astronauts stood in front of spacecraft
Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson in Moonfall.
(Image: © Lionsgate)

TechRadar Verdict

Roland Emmerich remains a master of size and scale, but in every other department – script, plotting, pace, casting and believability – he’s sadly lacking with this new movie. Packed with disaster movie clichés and continual flat one-liners, the film lacks zip or charm, instead relying on its special effects for any sense of wonder. Emmerich deserves credit for continuing to dream big and deliver spectacle on a grand scale. But, beyond some stunning shots of outer space, there isn’t much to marvel at in Moonfall.


  • +

    Visually incredible sequences


  • -

    Much longer than it needs to be

  • -

    Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson struggle with a banal script

  • -

    Poorly plotted and without pace or verve

  • -

    It gets very, very silly

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It’s hard to imagine a director who has taken as much delight in the size and scale of his movies as Roland Emmerich does. Even now, at the age of 66, the German director continues to be attracted by only the biggest of canvasses. 

His taste for scale has been there since his earliest days.  Even on his 1984 feature film debut, Das Arche Noah Prinzip, aka The Noah's Ark Principle, Emmerich managed to make the most expensive student film ever made. He raised 1.2 million German marks (around US$600,000, a lot of money back in 1984) to pull it off. 

Most of Emmerich's fellow students at the The University of Television and Film Munich scraped together about 20,000 marks for their film, just over 1% of what Emmerich ended up putting on the table. He used the cash to create a sci-fi epic set about a space station whose crew are battling for Earth's very survival. His talent for scale and his uncanny ability to persuade producers to part with large amounts of money have served him very well over the years. 

As Emmerich's career progressed, his movies – both when they’re taking on real events and those in other worlds – have continued to grow. He’s given us two Independence Days, a much-maligned but successful take on Godzilla, and put the world days away from the apocalypse on more than one occasion. In the process, he's netted more than $3 billion at the box office. 

It's this pedigree that's earned him the chance to make Moonfall. His last film, the glossy World War II retelling Midway, grossed only $126 million worldwide against its $100 million budget, and even 2016's long-awaited sequel Independence Day: Resurgence managed to earn less than half of what its predecessor did, despite the budget being more than double the size. 

Somehow, and despite no interest from any of the major studios, Emmerich managed to raise $140 million to make his new film. In interviews for Moonfall, where he has been taking swipes at modern behemoths Marvel and Star Wars, he has proudly stated that his new effort is the most expensive independent film ever made. 

But is it actually any good?

Shooting for the moon


Halle Berry and John Bradley take a walk in Moonfall. (Image credit: Lionsgate)

Moonfall begins, as you might expect, in the quiet of outer space. We find ourselves in 2011 with astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jocinda "Jo" Fowler (Halle Berry) on a routine mission to repair a broken satellite alongside a young rookie. 

The light-hearted atmosphere on the mission is soon shattered, though, when a mysterious force collides with the crew's shuttle. Harper manages to save Fowler, but the rookie is lost and they drag their bedraggled shuttle back to base. We cut to 10 years later, with the mission fallout seeing Harper blamed for the rookie's death, and Fowler, who'd fallen unconscious in the attack, unable to save him. 

Penniless and bitter, Harper has lost his career, reputation, marriage and family. He's drinking himself to death and facing eviction from his tiny apartment, while Fowler has risen to a senior role at NASA. 

Somewhat hilariously, Fowler is woken in the morning by a phone call, with her iPhone lighting up with 'NASA' calling. Her staff have made a discovery: the moon has changed its axis and the consequences are already beginning to play out on Earth, with higher tides and shocking weather just two of the potentially cataclysmic events to come.

Simultaneously, a hungover Harper arrives at a talk he is supposed to be giving to school children to find KC Houseman (Game Of Thrones' John Bradley), a conspiracy theorist and wannabe alien hunter, ranting away about mega-structures and extra-terrestrial life. He too has tracked that the moon has lost its balance and is coming towards the Earth.

Quickly, the news gets out there and Fowler, Harper and Houseman find themselves bound together to stop the world ending.

Losing the plot

A screenshot of Patrick Wilson's Brian Harper in Moonfall

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

From here on, things start to fall apart. Emmerich's script, which he co-wrote with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen, attempts to ground Harper, Houseman and Fowler in real life with an array of divorces, troubled children ,and family struggles. 

While screenwriting bibles will tell you that audiences need to ground their characters somewhere, these troubles feel both like you're ticking boxes and like slightly trifling matters. Suffice to say, they matter now in the grand scheme of things, especially when you can quite literally see the moon falling towards the earth.

There's even a bizarre bit of revenge from a gang of looting robbers, which plays out in a Fast and Furious style car chase. As one of the cars leaps across a cavern, the moon is right there, still falling towards earth. It's pretty laughable and feels really out of place for a sci-fi disaster movie.

That said, some of the CGI is truly stunning. That's clearly where the vast majority of the film's enormous budget has gone, particularly on the shots of outer space. 

The rest, however, looks like it has been copied and pasted for Emmerich's past work. We've seen rushing waters sweeping away skyscrapers and asteroids pounding snowy mountains over and over again. In fact, it's easy to imagine that Emmerich only decided to get his actors wet, as he does with Wilson and Bradley, just to prove he hadn't lifted the shots from his vast library of CGI shots. 

Speaking of the main acting trio, Berry, Wilson and Bradley aren't given much to work with here. Sure, there are jokes – plenty of them, in fact – but they're delivered without much zip and fall flat. 

The charm of Will Smith's Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day, sat alongside a wisecracking Jeff Goldblum, provided some much needed light relief in amongst the planet's threat of imminent destruction. Unfortunately, there's none of that on show here. 

Our verdict

With its cookie cutter CGI, flat script and a runtime that has no business being longer than two hours, Moonfall might be grand in scale and vision, but lacking in everything else. 

You'll get no spoilers here but, suffice to say, by the time we get into the meat of the story, things start to get very silly. Add in the fact that it isn't funny (save for the sheer absurdity of the film's premise), clever, or interesting enough to sweep you along with it, and you'll wonder why you stumped up the money to see it.

Emmerich has given us some of the best disaster movies of all time, but Moonfall certainly isn't one of them. A movie to save for an evening where you want to switch your brain off, sure, but we'd advise you to wait for its streaming debut if you're desperate to see it.

Moonfall is in theaters now.

Tom Goodwyn
Freelance Entertainment Writer

Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…