It’s been a while since a movie has come along that is as thoroughly explained by its title as Moonfall, the 18th feature from master of disaster Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Godzilla, etc.). This epic action picture is not a satirical allegory about climate change, like the similarly plotted and far inferior recent Adam McKay comedy Don’t Look Up. It isn’t a soul-searching drama about planetary collision as a metaphor for clinical depression, like Lars von Trier’s 2011 art film Melancholia. This is just a simple, straightforward, gloriously stupid movie about the big rock that orbits our planet suddenly (and, for much of the film’s running time, inexplicably) falling out of the sky.
As a lifelong aficionado of sprawling, dopey disaster movies with plenty of character back story—your Poseidon Adventures, your Twisters, your Titanics—and as maybe the world’s biggest fan of Emmerich’s 2012 (2009), I was naturally inclined to enjoy Moonfall, and I did, though maybe with not quite as much glee as I vibed with the fevered conspiracy theories and lovingly preserved world treasures of 2012. (The scene where two major characters are working out survival strategies in the foreground while a pair of giraffes are being airlifted to an ark in the background remains a touchstone.) But I’m not inclined to write an ordinary review, since Moonfall is the kind of movie best experienced in real time, its preposterous moments hailing down on the viewer like so many hunks of lunar regolith.
Here then, in the order they occur in the film, are the best lines of dialogue in Moonfall that contain the word moon (or in one key case, its sister term Earth), with enough context provided to establish who speaks those words to whom at what point in the story. Note: If you connect the dots carefully enough here, you might come across details that reveal some late plot twists. But really, the biggest spoiler is right there in the title: The moon, she falls.
• “City-sized moon pieces will rain down.”—an unnamed research underling at NASA, nervously explaining to senior officer Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (Halle Berry) that the moon has inexplicably fallen out of orbit and is on a collision course with Earth.
• “I’ve got a lot of problems.”—Jo’s former colleague Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), a disgraced astronaut. Brian fell from his family’s and NASA’s graces back in 2011 when he insisted that the death of a fellow astronaut on his watch during a moon mission was the result not of human error but of an attack by a mysterious “swarm” of what he swears was alien nanotechnology.
“And the moon falling into the Earth isn’t one of them?”—Jo Fowler, nailing her comeback.
• “Fuck the Moon”—Faded graffiti on the exterior of the rusted-out, long-unused Endeavor space shuttle, which Jo and Brian are recommissioning from storage for an impromptu Hail Mary operation.
• “I hope the moon holds together. At least for a little while anyway.”—Jo Fowler, summarizing the quite literally lunatic situation to a roomful of space-related bigwigs that includes the secretly cowardly head honcho of NASA. Also present is Jo’s officious if well-meaning ex-husband (Eme Ikwuakor), a highly placed military official who’s possibly in cahoots with an ill-advised Department of Defense plan to use nuclear weapons on the moon.
• “[Military commanders] are prepared to use everything in their power to stop the moon.”—Jo Fowler apprising her rogue comrades that their scrappy, three-person plan to zip up to the moon and destroy the alien base there is the Earth’s only chance to survive.
• “Does he mean … inside the moon?”—Freelance astronomer and local conspiracy crank KC Houseman (John Bradley of Game of Thrones fame) upon confirming his theory that Earth’s only satellite is in fact a hollow “megastructure” built by ancient aliens. As is often the case in the Emmerich-verse, the character with the most out-there conspiracy theory—about Mayan calendar predictions coming true or Shakespeare’s authorship being a confusingly durable historic long con—turns out to be the only one in the end to be high-fiving, “I told-you-so” right. He will be the third astronaut on Jo and Brian’s maverick moonshot.
• “Are we dead?” “No, we are just inside the moon.” An exchange between the anxious KC and the reassuring Jo when they find themselves in a featureless all-white space not unlike the one where Neo first encounters Morpheus in The Matrix.
• “Oh shit, the moon is rising! Gravity’s gonna go crazy.”—Brian’s son (Charlie Plummer), fresh out of jail for a DUI but basically a good kid, fleeing to high ground with the cute Chinese exchange student (Kelly Yu) who is in charge of shepherding Jo’s small child to safety, while all around them falling lunar chunks shear the peaks off mountaintops and 100-foot tidal waves engulf the world’s coastlines, reducing the skyline of Manhattan to a field of sodden rubble (surely not for the last time in a Roland Emmerich movie).
• “Large parts of the moon will rain down on us. There will be radiation.”—Jo’s no-nonsense military ex detailing the results of his definitely not optimal moon-nuking plan. The viewer starts to sense early on that Jo and the moon nuker probably shouldn’t get back together.
• “Brian! Brian Harper!”—KC calling out in search of his missing colleague (and by now trusted friend) from within the trippy expanse of that Matrix-y inner moon chamber.
“How many Brians you think there are inside the moon?”—Jo to KC, again crushing it with the comebacks even in a high-stress situation.
• “What the hell are you?”—Brian to the hologramlike image of his son as a young child that confronts him within the void.
“The operating system of your moon.” –Child hologram to Brian, sagely.
• “The moon must survive. Everything depends on it.” – Brian to Jo and KC, dazed by the epiphany of his white-space revelation.
• “Brian, what’s the plan?”—Jo, gearing up for the big final action sequence involving somehow tricking the A.I. swarmbots into rerouting the moon on its orbit.
“Save the moon. Save Earth.” —Brian, providing their new mission statement as he finally triumphs over the self-pitying nihilism that has for too long kept him estranged from his drunk-driving-but-ultimately-redeemable son.
• “If the moon survives, they know organic life can still be born.” –KC, speculating about the surprisingly nonhostile game being played out between Earth’s inhabitants and the invisible artificial intelligence system that reigns within the innermost chambers of … the moon. (It was a hollow piece of alien technology all along!)
• “The moon is [illegible] to [illegible] over the North Atlantic!”—a hasty scribble in my notes, with no record of who spoke this garbled line or to whom. A lot was happening at once, OK? It was the action climax, occurring in three locations (both terrestrial and galactic) simultaneously!
• “You know, if the Earth gets a second chance, I think we deserve one too.”—Jo to Brian, not in a romantic tone but not ruling out the possibility either. Jo delivers this overture as, having just saved the world and introduced a new epoch of life on Earth with a disquietingly much-closer and weirder-looking moon, the two of them await rescue in a snowy mountain range, where, for reasons unknown, the top half of the Chrysler Building has landed during the moonfall event. This hints at a world fatality rate that our handsome heroes seem oblivious to as they joyfully reunite in the rubble-strewn snow.
• “Am I still alive?”—What appears to be the intact body of KC, even though we have just seen him sacrifice himself by insisting on serving as organic “bait” to lure the evil nanobot swarms and get his fellow astronauts safely back to Earth.
“We scanned your consciousness. You are part of the moon now.”—hologram of KC’s loving if demented elderly mother, petting a hologram of his cat, Fuzz Aldrin, as they prepare to initiate him into whatever post-human future awaits. To truly comprehend what this ending means, you too must unite your consciousness with the lunar core, preferably by watching Moonfall in IMAX.