The Cloverfield Paradox
Director: Julius Onah
Screenwriter: Oren Uziel and Doug Jung
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, and Zhang Ziyi
Rated TV-MA | 102 Mintues
Release Date: January 4, 2018
One thing you have to appreciate about the Cloverfield franchise is that it is building its own mythology without the films’ actually knowing its a part of J.J. Abrams’ grand mystery box scheme. Cloverfield was a sci-fi romp that drew its found-footage inspiration from films like Blair Witch. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a more focused offering that was like a theatrical play set almost entirely in an underground bunker. And both are somehow loosely connected to each other without the characters of those films knowing it. However, Netflix surprised us all on Sunday night by releasing The Cloverfield Paradox, the latest installment of the Cloverfield franchise, this time set in space.
Unfortunately, the entire film is a disjointed mess that haphazardly throws in dated and familiar plot devices and twists for the sake of being “Cloverfield In Space.”
My full review below.
Earth is going through an energy crisis and it is up to the crew of the Shepard space station — Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Volkov (Aksel Hennie), Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Monk Acosta (John Ortiz), Kiel (David Oyelowo), and Tam (Zhang Ziyi) — to figure out how to solve that problem with an experimental particle accelerator. While the crew has gone through trial runs in the past, none have ended in success, which leads nations to go to war. Eventually, this has an adverse effect on the crew who also come from different nations, with each one of them believing the others have secret agendas. However, one of their trials ends with a strange success. See, upon completion, a bright light appears and suddenly the Earth has disappeared. That’s when the mystery starts.
People start appearing in the walls of the ship. Worms disappear and then suddenly reappear in the oddest of places. The walls are eating people. The science and logic of everything the crew once knew is thrown right out the window. No one can explain what is going on, and soon the crisis gets worse. Which would be a whole lot of fun for a film like this if they had fully developed these ideas instead of just throwing them in without any concern for the overall narrative.
Here all of the film’s problems could be traced back to the fact that the Earth hasn’t disappeared, it’s that the crew is in another dimension. See the light that they saw did not destroy Earth, but it took the crew to another Earth that is going through the same exact crisis. There are a few key differences, but their presence is causing all sorts of problems for this Earth. And their interference is occupying another dimension’s space. So its the kind of science that Earth abhors. So in order to cure that problem they have to return home. But bad things have to happen.
It’s a fun idea at first, but one that is poorly executed.
Cloverfield in space becomes yet another Prometheus, with the entire film thriving on characters making one bad decision after another. There isn’t anything sinister behind each event, no one is really trying to kill each other. However for every bad thing that happens, the film just chalks every horrible event to the dimensional jump. And
that is lazy.
For every unexplained event these characters suffer through and for every plot twist that is thrown in, there is no strong follow through. It all relies on the fact that the characters blame everything that is happening because of the experiment that went wrong. When they find out that people like Mina Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki) are suddenly appearing inside the walls of the ship, it’s just something that was thrown in in hopes that it could throw the viewer off. She even provides the crew with information about its members that causes them to distrust each other as soon as she utters those words. But that isn’t even fully fleshed out and its conclusion was thrown in for the sake of closure.
The scares work individually, as characters become infected but aren’t exposed to anything. One loses an arm, but feels no pain. And said arm becomes sentient and warns the crew of an impending danger. However, because these events are random occurrences, there is no lead-up or build to each scare. The film just hopes that the audience accepts these random events, and because it doesn’t spend nearly enough time with them, it’s hard to even care about their deaths. To make matters worse, a lot of these characters lack depth and personality.
The only one who has an arc in the film is Ava, and even then the structure is built on a house of cards. She goes off on this mission after losing her two children. Her husband, Michael (Roger Davies), believes that it will help her cope with her loss as the end result of the mission will benefit the world. It’s a tragic story that humanizes the characters. It’s that element that consistently runs through the Cloverfield films. But Michael is going through his own set of problems as the city is being ravaged by an unforeseen monster. How this correlates to the mission of the space station crew is unclear. And things in this film start to make less sense once again.
Other random characters include a child that Michael saves from the monster and Donal Logue, who plays a scientist who warns people about the dangers of testing a particle accelerator in space.
A lot of the film feels like it was poorly structured around each scare. There is nothing organic about them that fits into the overall narrative. There are times the film feels like it is at war with itself, with the non-Cloverfield stuff fighting with the fact that it has to be a Cloverfield film.
At least with Cloverfield we felt the drama through a camera lens of our characters racing to find a loved one in the wake of an alien destroying NYC. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, we felt the claustrophobic drama of what it would be like to be held captive in an underground bunker, despite the captor’s seemingly good intentions to protect his prisoners from an unseen threat. But The Cloverfield Paradox lacks all of that. There’s no tension or drama. Things in the film just happen for no reason. And yes, there will be Cloverfield easter eggs. All the film really has is this exciting exposition, but no real follow through.
Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos’ decision to dump the film to Netflix turned out to be a good idea. While the first two Cloverfield films were a massive hit built on a low budget, The Cloverfield Paradox was the most costly of the three, touting big budget effects and an all-star cast — a cast that was virtually wasted.
Yes, there is plenty of world-building left in the franchise, and taking Cloverfield into space would have been a lot of fun. But it was just so poorly stitched together that it feels like the entire film is tearing itself at the seams. It’s not entirely bad, and pieces of it can work on an individual level. But it feels like the film doesn’t even care what happens to its characters, and would rather move on to each kill at a snail’s pace while also throwing in the occasional and not-so-subtle Cloverfield reference. Hopefully, the next chapter is something that resembles the first two, putting original stories and great drama at the forefront while throwing in one or two cleverly hidden easter eggs.