Director: Julius Onah
Writers: Doug Jung, Oren Uziel
Platform: Streaming – Netflix
Release Date: Out Now
Yeah, they totally got me. When the Super Bowl trailer for Netflix film The Cloverfield Paradox revealed it’d be coming that same night, it was a mind-blowing moment. Paradigm-shifting for the film industry, even, in terms of distribution – yet, the level of impact was always going to be determined by the quality of the film. On that front, Paradox stumbles a little. This is a firm step down from the brilliantly tense 10 Cloverfield Lane, but still keeps the intrigue of the anthology-esque Cloverfield series going.
Paradox starts in a very promising way, with a gripping plot set-up. The events of the film take place in 2028, 20 years after a monster was unleashed upon the Earth in the initial Cloverfield film. Almost all of Paradox is set in space, on Cloverfield Station, where a crew has been tasked with using an on-board particle accelerator to create a sustainable energy source for the Earth. Civilisation on our planet is close to a tipping point as resources dwindle, making this mission crucial – but around two years in, no success has occurred. With one of the final attempts possible, the collision is achieved, but overloads – with bad, bad repercussions.
The most immediate issue is that the Earth has vanished from their sight. Have they moved, or has the planet? It’s a really neat story point that send shivers up the spine in a more layered way than your regular monster jump scares. Imagine feeling that lost in space, while also possibly carrying the responsibility for wiping out the Earth? Without their home in the windows, space seems much more empty. This is emphasised with striking shots of space at this point of the film, letting the vast gaps to any other stars soak in. Unlike the emptiness used in the cinematography of Alfonso Cuarón film Gravity, the distance to home is what gets the mind racing here.
It’s after this initial set-up that Paradox loses its way and goes a bit flat. The overload of the accelerator causes a bunch of wacky sci-fi horror side effects, such as a detached, animate arm, worms being displaced into a body, a human discovered mangled in the piping, and more. They’re all briefly entertaining but ultimately inconsequential, and the explanation for them is never developed beyond being a result of the accelerator accident. Similarly, the film never really commits to a story thread, hoping to distract with occasional shocks but never fully pulling us into the central journey back to Earth. Even with a bunch of side plots going on, it all just drifts suitably aimlessly towards the conclusion.
A big part of this is the characters, coming from various places of the Earth – they’re all serviceable, and the strong cast (including Daniel Brühl (Rush) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids)) do what they can with the material they are given, but they never form the chemistry you feel was intended. Hamilton, the lead woman played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast), is the only one to get any sort of backstory and emotional investment, but it is is nothing compared to the time and care put into making the characters of 10 Cloverfield Lane stick in the memory.
See, events in Paradox are very rarely surprising. Given that the film is set in the inherently unpredictable Cloverfield series, that is a major flaw. The crew generally have things happen to them rather than actively making things happen. Compare that to Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in 10 Cloverfield Lane, an underrated female lead who shows her resourceful personality through the actions she takes. She also had scenes with other characters like Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and even Howard (John Goodman) that really fleshed out and developed her character. No one gets that sort of growth in Paradox, or even very much beyond the very basic realisation that they screwed up. As a result, there isn’t an emotional centre to keep us invested in the moment-to-moment of the film.
Just like the first Cloverfield movie, the failings of Paradox are – at least slightly – saved by it being in this franchise; the most intriguing parts of the film are what we don’t see, or might see in future films. News reports and climactic revelations do at least give us more clues as to how the Cloverfield universe works, and it is enough to keep the series interesting. Looked at as a single film, The Cloverfield Paradox is pretty unspectacular science-fiction, and hard to recommend amongst all the quality films available nowadays. On the other hand, for fans – or prospective fans – of the Cloverfield films, it’s worth a watch just to learn a little bit more about this enigmatic series.