The Cloverfield Paradox, 2018.
Directed by Julius Onah.
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo and Zhang Ziyi.
Orbiting above a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.
It goes without saying that The Cloverfield Paradox is destined to be remembered more for its potentially game-changing “ambush release” than anything the movie itself actually brings to the table. For though the third entry into the unlikely sci-fi anthology franchise is by far the weakest of the bunch so far – fairly unsurprising considering its well-documented post-production troubles – it still boasts just enough gonzo weirdness to mostly pass muster.
For the sake of not ruining the experience for anyone, I’ll keep plot details to a discreet minimum. An energy crisis has broken out on Earth, with scientists hoping that successful firing of a ludicrously powerful particle accelerator in space could result in the creation of a new energy source which would save an at-war humanity. However, the seemingly successful experiment quickly turns out to have dire, horrifying consequences for the ship’s crew and, indeed, Earth itself.
Originally conceived by screenwriter Oren Uziel as a standalone sci-fi thriller called God Particle, the script eventually caught the eye of Cloverfield mega-producer J.J. Abrams. This soon enough resulted in it becoming the third film in this unlikely Twilight Zone-esque tapestry of sparsely-connected tales about monsters both human and otherworldly.
For sure, The Cloverfield Paradox is a frustrating film, because while it functions fine enough as a competently made, solidly acted sci-fi romp, it was clearly capable of so, so much more. Right from the outset, the dialogue is hilariously on-the-nose, with put-upon protagonist Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who for her part is really trying here) just stopping short of literally staring into the camera and taking a lore dump right before our very eyes.
This is a persistent problem throughout the film, and yet, it still got its hooks in me thanks to a sure, persistent unpredictability, not to mention some more unpleasant divergences into David Cronenberg-esque body horror.
As the first big-budget feature from director Julius Onah, he acquits himself well, and almost every single problem the film has comes down to a script that, by Uziel’s own admission, was re-written on-the-fly during production. That a peripheral plot involving Ava’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) feels like it was mostly added in re-shoots is probably not a coincidence (it’s well known that the film had disastrous test screenings a while back).
Tone can also be an issue because the Frankenstein’s monster of a script pulls the audience in several directions at once, showcasing some deliciously horrifying shenanigans befalling the crew members, before Chris O’Dowd’s chucklehead Mundy rips a killer one-liner and deflates most of that tension, much to the film’s detriment.
It’s worth reiterating that these films are held to a fairly high standard, with Cloverfield remaining one of the best and most creative found footage films of all time, and 10 Cloverfield Lane standing on its own two feet as a riveting psycho-drama that divisively lets loose with entertaining monster nonsense in the final stretch.
Were The Cloverfield Paradox released under its original title without the Cloververse baggage – which, in fairness, is probably more minimal than most will be expecting from the title – the general response would probably be a little more favourable. Though of course, people would also care a whole lot less. Even when the A-to-B-to-C narrative logic is a little on the wonky side, the sharp visuals, abundance of grotesque intrigue and game ensemble cast – led by a typically committed Mbatha-Raw – add up to a decent sci-fi outing, if sadly nothing more.
It shouldn’t be terribly surprising to anyone who has followed the production of this film that it’s wildly uneven, but if you temper your expectations accordingly, there are a lot of compelling ideas and gnarly moments here. Clearly, though, the script needed more work, and the only reason it landed on Netflix in the first place was because Paramount knew it would sink like a stone at the box office.
If you’re craving an air-tight, claustrophobic sci-fi which satisfyingly ties into the Cloververse, you’ll be left wanting – and hoping that the franchise’s fourth film due out in October, Overlord, is a good sight better – but if you can settle for well-acted, glossy, fitfully riotous junk food with some questionably lapses in logic, The Cloverfield Paradox does the job well enough.
Again, though, its ground-breaking delivery to audiences is what will keep the film in people’s minds for the rest of 2018. Considering that the movie’s mid-Super Bowl reveal damn-near snapped the Internet in half, don’t be surprised if we see more stunt releases like this in the near-future.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.
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