Watching The Cloverfield Paradox, Daniel Espinosa’s 2017 sci-fi film Life came to mind. The two films are similar. Scientists aboard a space station orbiting the earth, their countries flags proudly displayed on their shoulders as they work together to solve the worlds problems. The ever present cinematic trope of world unity to solve it’s crisis’ takes center stage. There was even times one could recall various shots of Alien: Covenant mixed into this new film. What Netflix was able to pull off with an all-new form of guerrilla marketing is admittedly impressive. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s marketing, once again J.J. Abrams was able to keep us all in the dark but instead of two months, only two hours had to pass from the films trailer debut. About midway through the film, it becomes abundantly clear why they did what they did. The Cloverfield Paradox is not a good film.
From the outset, The Cloverfield Paradox is promising. Its first half hour lacks the thrills most movies try to set up, and that’s okay. Much of the reason 10 Cloverfield Lane was so successful is its slow burn pace to build up to its ultimately exhilarating (albeit flawed) climax. There was also an tense element of claustrophobia in regards to its unique setting. Here, we are introduced to our team of scientists aboard a space station working on particle acceleration. Meanwhile on Earth, war is beginning over the budding energy crisis it is in the midst of. On the space station, things begin to go awry as questions need to be answered and fast before the crew loses control of their own situation.
Perhaps Netflix, Paramount and the rest of the gang released this film quickly because they knew what they had. With its stellar cast of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl, David Oyelowo, Chris O’Dowd and John Ortiz, there should have been something here to use. The script with jarring and non-sensical tonal shifts, sci-fi tropes and horror elements that would even make fans of the genre squirm, is mostly to blame. Although much of the cast is committed enough, its hard to truly immerse yourself in the film and its characters when its script doesn’t.
Mbatha-Raw, Bruhl and Oyelowo are fine in the movie. That’s no surprise, these are talented actors. The rest of cast isn’t really given anything to do except the singular character arcs they are given, and not much. O’Dowd is the comic relief and ironically is anything but that, and the cringeworthy attempts at humor feel out of place and very forced. As is the case with any bad film, the characters are all incredibly one note, not just O’Dowd. This was the source of my complaints of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. At least in that movie, there are some real stakes and the journey is competently assembled to the point that we at least care about what happens to them. This is not the case here. Rather, The Cloverfield Paradox spends its first two acts building to a conclusion that at this juncture, we don’t care about happens to the characters. By the time the film wraps up, I was void of any investment in the story as well.
The Cloverfield Paradox wants to make sense of multi-dimensional travel, particle acceleration and numerous other intricate topics you’d find in a physics textbook glossary. It even sloppily tries to explain the world of the “Cloververse”. However, it clumsily weaves and bobs its way through its aforementioned messy script and incoherent direction from Julius Onah. To go along with that, the way the film is put together, is less than cohesive. Visually, the film feels entirely inauthentic aside from a few fleeting moments where the visual effects aren’t half bad. Still, most of its shots and sequences are uninspired rehashes of better films.
What transpires over the films 102 minute runtime is a tour through sci-fi and horror’s greatest hits. It is cliched to levy criticism on a film by saying “you’ve seen this before”. But here, that phrase may be more relevant than it has been in recent memory. You truly have seen this all done before, and much better. The list of films the movie borrows from is endless. Anything from Interstellar to Star Trek, the movie assumes you’ve never heard of these before. Maybe you haven’t. Even so, The Cloverfield Paradox is so woefully crafted, you don’t need to have that reference point to know it’s derivative.
The over arching plot lines in the film are so silly it becomes tedious to watch. The plot spins in several different directions including an absolutely useless subplot of the events happening back on Earth. We must wait until the films waining moments, until we find out why the Earth subplot exists. Even in that moment, it still doesn’t make such, or have any emotional impact on the main plot.
The Cloverfield “franchise” has always seemed to steer clear of tying things too heavily together. 10 Cloverfield Lane was intrinsically its own story allowing viewers to not have to make the connection to the original. The titular address is the only obvious link between the two films. the way the film ties all the movies together is extremely muddled, and really doesn’t make any sense. The whole device confuses the overarching timeline at play when it should be clarifying it.
The self-containment that makes Cloverfield as good as it is, is completely abandoned in this film. 10 Cloverfield Lane ultimately expanded and created another independent and contained thriller that happened to share a piece of the originals title. I guess I assumed thats where this franchise was going. I love the idea of a bunch of movies, set during this alien invasion that are all independent from each other but share a universe. That’s a much less convoluted idea. However, in attempt to unnecessarily over-explain its universe, The Cloverfield Paradox is nothing more than a bag of empty promises and missed opportunity. But hey, at least they nailed the marketing.
“The Cloverfield Paradox”
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Julius Onah
Runtime: 102 minutes
Rated: Unrated by MPAA but a TV-MA rating by Netflix.