The moon heads to the Earth in Roland Emmerich’s latest sci-fi disaster movie – but this one takes some unexpected turns.

I wasn’t quite expecting what I got. On the surface, Roland Emmerich’s latest cocktail of disaster movie, ensemble drama, special effects and world-ending threat (Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow all present and correct on his CV) seems welcome and daft. There is a moon. There is an Earth. The moon’s trajectory is off. It is falling to the Earth. I can’t pretend that the concept didn’t have me anticipating a glorious daft blockbuster, the ilk of which we now rarely seem to get.

And for the first 40 minutes – by distance the weakest part of the film – that’s what we build towards. We’re introduced to some astronauts, once of whom within an hour or so will be the head of NASA, another will be dead inside two minutes. In a sign of just how impatient screenwriters Emmerich, Spenser Cohen and Harold Kloser are, we then, within minutes see a career trashed, a home sold, and John Bradley’s nerdy character – he’s called KC – discovering a global threat. A global threat he has to get someone to believe, whilst supporting his sick mother, and the pussy cat she likes stroking.

There’s no time for MacGuffins or distractions, as we then pretty much get the entire movie Armageddon on very fast forward in about ten minutes – if you think I’m exaggerating, come back after you’ve seen it and we’ll chat again – as the set up continues. An aside: if you’ve ever scoured the film listings looking for a movie where a vital clue is located via the power of cat piss, your quest is over.

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It’s a very, very clunky first part of the movie though and it struggles to find life. Things are explained at breakneck speed – there’s someone thrown in prison, and a quick court case lugged in – and events have no sense of time at all. Donald Sutherland appears in a wheelchair, and is promptly wheeled back out after delivering enough lines to get him on the poster. Product placement for Lexus cars and Kaspersky software – who knew Kaspersky powered NASA? – has the subtlety of a rep from each company sitting either side of you in the cinema and handing you a flyer.

It’s left primarily to Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson to carry the weight of the plot and explaining what’s going on, and both are okay, neither are on top form I’d suggest. John Bradley fares better, lots of other people come and go, barely letting the door hit their backside on the way out. Meanwhile, a crucial piece of plot-altering information is deduced on a white board with a felt tip pen. Two of our heroes end up in dressing gowns at one stage, and I can’t remember why. In another scene, time is afforded for a brief comparing of tattoos as the imminent destruction of the entire world is popped to the side for a second.

If it’s easy to punch holes in the narrative here, that’s because it does feel like someone’s managed to install a copy of Final Draft on a computerised sieve. But, well, it’s never dull. Furthermore, Emmerich wrestling special effects-driven disaster scenes is still something worth buying a ticket for. We get snow, we get loads of water, we get fire, and – my favourite – the moon suddenly appearing behind the Earth, popping its head up like a rabbit appearing from its warren. Emmerich keeps these sequences pacey and with no shortage of bang for your metaphorical buck. His tongue wavers near the edge of his cheek too, and I never got the sense that he wasn’t in on the fun.

I can’t pretend I was particularly feeling the stakes, though. And I can’t pretend I wasn’t thinking how Moonfall managed to liberally borrow from a bunch of sci-fi films, none of which I’d suggest will end up with a lower IMDB rating than this. “This doesn’t make any sense, Brian”, utters a character at one stage, and it’s one of a bunch of pearlers that I couldn’t help but nod along with. Chuckles, several deliberate, are not in short supply.

I do have to acknowledge also that narratively, things do take, well, quite a turn. There’s a spoiler-filled story conversation to be had about the choices made with Moonfall that I’d very much enjoy having. I admit I was somewhat sideswiped by where the film ultimately decides to go, and the level of information dump explaining required by the film to at least try and get across what’s been happening.

I think the best way I can frame it is like this: if you were someone, in the early days of the internet, who went onto discussion boards and complained about a movie that tied things up by uploading a computer virus to an alien ship, now might be a good opportunity to go and quietly delete some of those comments. It looks positively sane by way of comparison.

What I admire about Moonfall though is, without question, Emmerich absolutely commits and goes for it here. He wants to entertain. It’s madness, but it’s his madness, and as much as I scribbled WTF down in my notebook a couple of times, I wasn’t bored. Baffled? Good god yes. Bored? Never. The man throws everything at us to entertain us, and all power to him for doing so. I very much like that he exists.

Moonfall is, there’s no getting around it, still a mess. It’s awash with spectacle, less blessed with substance. Greenland is a far better bet if you’re looking for a more conventional, more successful recent disaster movie. Yet Moonfall is absolutely the choice if you want to zip back to the feel of the 1990s – there’s a very fetching CRT monitor at one point – and just have a fun night out. If you’re willing to meet it half way and give it a bit of a push, there’s fun to be had here.

It’s almost impossible to put a star rating on, in truth: if I was in traditional movie critic mode, it’d be a lower score. But I have to reconcile that I walked in grinning, I walked out grinning. And I’m not going to stop talking about the film for quite some time.  The spoiler-filled response articles to the movie are going to be quite something…

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