The Cloverfield Paradox, 2018.
Directed by Julius Onah.
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Debicki, David Oyelowo, Chris O’Dowd, Roger Davies, John Ortiz, Ziyi Zhang, Aksel Hennie, and Simon Pegg.
After a scientific experiment aboard the space station involving a particle accelerator has unexpected results, the astronauts find themselves isolated. Following their horrible discovery, the space station crew must fight for survival.
Instead of talking about giant monsters, limited energy resources, scientists’ desire to play God, if and how there are connections to the already established lore, what first, and most importantly, needs to be discussed is the unprecedented decision to release The Cloverfield Paradox mere seconds after the ending of Super Bowl LII. The franchise has consistently been known to go out of its way to hide various key details before they hit theaters (or in this case, Netflix) to the point where 10 Cloverfield Lane was not even disclosed as a Cloverfield series entry until roughly a month before it dropped. With that in mind, one can say that this landmark creative decision is a natural way to one-up that expected severity of extreme secrecy, but is it worth it if the movie is all over the place, adds nothing to the franchise, and features some woefully bad CGI effects to boot?
The answer to that question is yes, if and only if you’re a part of the Netflix corporation. Generate the hype, shamefully reap the profit from unearned but plentiful views, and stick your head in the sand when less than favorable reviews such as mine come in or when the common movie fan lets out an expressive “meh” and posts negative feedback on social media. That’s not a practice anyone should applaud or reward, regardless of how groundbreaking the launching of The Cloverfield Paradox is for the franchise and cinema as a whole.
Business politics aside, the direction from Julius Onah (a Nigerian born filmmaker mostly tied to short films, making his sophomore full-length feature here) is messy, filled with a wide array of characters and subplots that never about to anything substantial. Holding back on meaty, spoilerific details, The Cloverfield Paradox explores the complex sci-fi theory of multiple dimensions existing and colliding as it follows a group of nationally diverse personalities aboard a spaceship vessel as they attempt to perfect a project that can grant them unlimited energy, effectively acting as the solution to many of Earth’s problems that unfortunately lead to unnecessary and violent wars between countries. Just how diverse the cast of characters really is (it’s packed with notable names such as Daniel Bruhl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, and a few more international stars) deserves recognition, but the script doesn’t really create characters. Instead, everyone feels like a generic space crew type with a distinct skill expertise (technology, repair, communications, etc) existing to represent their country rather than a person with relatable emotions.
The exception to this rule is Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton, who is leaving behind her boyfriend Michael (Roger Davies) by signing up for the mission; they briefly talk about how their relationship will still survive, we learn more about why it is currently on a rocky road, and all of it culminates with a heavy morality decision towards the end that falls flat. Written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung (the latter actually penned some of Star Trek: Beyond), The Cloverfield Paradox is working with highly basic paradox tropes, shockingly leaving nothing to ponder after the credits roll. Compared to something like the incredible video game Bioshock: Infinite which will scramble and fry your brain 1000 times over during the final 20 minutes, this is essentially baby’s first science fiction film. Admittedly, it does start out strong in a The Hateful Eight type manner where problems arising causes dissension between various parties of different nationalities, except Quentin Tarantino (and I realize he’s not exactly someone we should be talking about positively right now, but this should be said for the sake of comparison) also fleshes out his characters that are likewise contained in one setting. By the second half, just about every character is walking flesh partaking in shallow outer space spectacle.
Realistically, anyone clamoring the release of this thing from the second the Super Bowl advertisement displayed the words “coming very soon” is first and foremost interested in how this will connect to previous installments. Basically, it does and it doesn’t; primarily, The Cloverfield Paradox is a prequel to the original film, meaning that much like 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane this is essentially a self-contained narrative. Honestly, the small side story of Michael stranded on Earth that seems to run concurrently to the first movie is pointless and reeks of fan service. Somehow, that appeasement to series fans is also disappointing as there is maybe 20 seconds total of monster footage. If all you really want is an explanation/origin story, well, you will most definitely get that, but in the most convoluted and overly complicated fashion, as if the writers were bored in an office throwing darts and landed on “time paradox leading to multiple dimensions” when searching for a framing device for the overall plot.
It also needs to be mentioned that the special effects here are ghastly, especially for a marquee franchise. At one point a character loses an arm, but the digital rendering of it is so terrible that you don’t even have to look closely to notice the outline of the removed area. Literally, an invisible shoulder can be seen lying limp, and the indentations marking the dismemberment look like something from the early 2000’s. Explosions and space exploration do not fare much better. However, there are a few disturbing sequences to be found, one featuring quite the grotesque usage of worms inside the human body.
The Cloverfield Paradox has absolutely no idea what it wants to be, suffering from an identity crisis from beginning to end. It’s not a monster movie, it’s not a character study of a diverse group working together to accomplish a scientific goal that could potentially bring about world peace, it’s not straight-up horror (the terrifying bits do seem inspired by Alien which is pleasant to report), and it’s not a time paradox mind-bender; it’s all of the above and fails at them all. It’s such a shame for this wonderfully talented and diverse cast. The only question left is who will despise The Cloverfield Paradox more; fans of the franchise or those turning it on seeking some sci-fi escapism. At the very least, it remains mildly entertaining all the way through as the characters routinely face peril without fear of killing anyone off.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com
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