‘The Moon’ Review: Science Fiction Spectacle Gets Lost in Space
Near the beginning of the doomed journey into space that is The Moon, a slog of a science fiction film from writer-director Kim Yong-hwa, it is remarked in a hallway conversation back on Earth at an operations station that “the chance of back-to-back massive failures is very low.” Of course, this makes it immediately clear that something is about to go catastrophically wrong and might as well be accompanied by a wink to the audience. What it likely wasn’t intending to hint at was the cascading of failures that is the film itself. Though not without some occasional moments of tension, it cycles through all the familiar beats of this type of story in a manner that is tiresome more than thrilling. Whereas other similar films have successfully embraced sincerity amidst disaster spectacles to reach new heights, this one never gets off the ground even as it goes further and further into the vastness of space.
The story places us in the not-too-distant future of December 2029. After a prior disaster, South Korea has now launched a manned mission to the moon that we are told is valuable to them and part of a new space race. When a solar flare disrupts communications, this is merely the beginning of a series of escalating crises that will befall the mission. This leads to casualties and strands the now lone astronaut Sun-woo (Do Kyung-soo) all on his own. Young and more than a little out of his depth, he will have to rely on the team down below to help him. At the forefront of this is Dr. Kim (Sol Kyung-gu) who had left this career behind under less than great circumstances. It may have also been so that he could hunt CGI boars in the woods in peace as that is how we are introduced to him. Only later do we learn that the two have a history that will complicate and ultimately drag down this already drab experience.
Drama on Earth Prevents ‘The Moon’ From Taking Flight
Where a film like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity boasted breathtaking visuals which it never let us take a breather from, this is constantly checking in with what is happening on Earth. At a certain point, the film feels like it is less interested in the survival story playing out above unless there is some way to tie it down to only so-so drama. In this regard, it feels more in line with something like Ridley Scott’s The Martian. However, while that is not a perfect film by any means, it feels far more assured and engaging than this. Even as there is an initially admirable commitment to a more grounded sense of realism with the various communications and the problem-solving that must happen, this ends up taking a back seat to a painfully cloying narrative. The precise details of this would likely constitute a spoiler even as it is revealed quite early and feels recycled from any number of other stories. It becomes rather hard to go along with not because it is familiar, but because of the clunky way it is executed. Over and over again, the music will swell to show flashbacks that feel more artificially engineered than naturally emotional. There is never a moment where you feel invested in it because of the way it keeps overplaying its hand in often awkward fashion.
When many of the visual effects then look more like a bad video game than they do a real depiction of the perils of space travel, this further takes you out of the experience. Some of the best science fiction films, even those with a lower budget, can get around this by focusing on the little details and working within more confined spaces. The experience of watching something like Prospect or Moon, while far more reserved, feel truly alive because of how invested you get in them. They feel like living, breathing worlds whereas this does not. Even when we touch down on the moon, which is where there are actual moments of awe, the film keeps cutting back to the far less interesting goings-on taking place back on Earth. We are never swept up in the story, making each escalation land with a thud. It breaks the small immersion it had been creating for us to see news broadcast after news broadcast and meeting after meeting that just adds to the forced drama. It isn’t ever adventurous enough to be thrilling nor is well-written enough to function as a compelling drama. There is potentially a serviceable ninety-minute film in here where we are more fully placed in the space shoes of Sun-woo. Instead, we get one that runs over two hours in which most of what is taking place feels marginal and meandering. It all ends up repeatedly burying the lone astronaut under an excess of extraneous developments never as dynamic as just seeing him try to survive.
‘The Moon’ Increasingly Falls Apart
There is a numbing repetitiveness to the experience that will always pull it back from being more genuinely thrilling to just keep tumbling aimlessly. With each catastrophe, it falls into a pattern where it half-heartedly makes it seem like all hope is lost as everyone looks on worriedly from below. There is plenty of shouting in these moments so that we can’t miss how serious it is, but it oddly feels empty despite how much is going on. It is too defined by convention without offering much of a vision of its own. This makes it end up feeling mindless and, even worse, mundane. No matter how much it throws at you, including a couple of ridiculous revelations near the end, nothing ever makes contact for long enough to leave any real impact as it just goes back to business as usual. For a film about a supposedly historic and harrowing journey to the moon, it never manages to charter any new territory of its own.
The Big Picture
- The Moon fails to deliver a thrilling space adventure, instead falling into repetitive patterns and mundane conventions.
- The film’s attempts at forced drama and emotional moments feel clunky and artificial, hindering investment in the story.
- The visuals and special effects often resemble a bad video game, lacking the realism and immersion needed for a captivating sci-fi experience.
The Moon is in theaters now.