South Korea’s space program has just launched Woori-ho, their own spacecraft meant to travel to the moon. On board are three astronauts, all from varying fields, bringing with them different skills and expertise. Much like Apollo 13, things go wrong from the get-go, as the shuttle is exposed to solar winds that cut off communication with earth and does damage to the ship. While two of the astronauts are out fixing the exterior, the solar winds pick up again, leading to tragedy, leaving Hwang Sun-woo (Doh Kyung-soo) the only man left alive, having to navigate the mission on his own.
A single person is space has been explored before, in movies like The Martian or Gravity, but we don’t really feel the effect of that here as mission control is a weighty presence in the film. There’s constant cuts between what’s happening in space and the events on earth, and in doing so the film never quite allows us to properly soak in the experience of space. The astronaut talk about heaven and hell in relation to the cosmos, but the film never quite brings us into either experience.
Sun-woo is given but a brief moment to grieve his team, before the momentum kicks in again and the need to move the plot along takes over. There’s also Sun-woo’s complicated relationship with former flight director Kim Jae-guk (Sol Kyung-gu), who failed to prevent his father’s suicide 5 years ago. It feels like a subplot lifted right out of Top Gun: Maverick. The previous shuttle they sent to the moon exploded just before landing, leading everyone involved to feel a sense of guilt, much like Sun-woo’s father and Jae-guk.
The Moon is meant to be blockbuster fare, but it moves at a tepid pace, and we don’t feel any sense of attachment to the characters and their arcs in the film. Maybe because they’re so shallowly developed. Sun-woo’s grief over his fellow astronauts don’t really make us feel anything, since we only had measly scene of them bonding before things went awry. His decision to go on this mission is shaped heavily by his father, but besides a brief moment of the two standing together in a flashback, there is no proper sense of the close relationship he presumably had with his father. He’s given plenty of motive to risk his life and continue the mission, for his father and team members, but we don’t feel the stakes of his decision, or the life-threatening position he’s in.
All that follows in the film is one complication after the other, in a way that feels contrived more than authentic. One moment there’s mention of a meteor shower, the next moment Sun-woo is racing down the moon dodging these meteors like he’s in some action movie. Even the soundscape evokes an action movie vibe – it feels too noisy to be a film set in space. Also, when the tension amps up, you see characters in mission control clutching each other melodramatically, consistently distracting us from Sun-woo’s perilous situation, instead of behaving in a way that would add to the tension.
There are better movies about space out there, and better trips to take than The Moon.
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The Moon's action set pieces are over-the-top ridiculous for a space movie, and seems keen to throw the protagonist into one perilous situation without allowing audiences to feel any sense of jeopardy.
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