TL;DR – Great casting, an interesting premise, and a fascinating history behind it, but there was something that just didn’t work The Cloverfield Paradox, and honestly it left me feeling a bit meh at the end.
Score – 2 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – No
So back in the day in the olden times of far way 2008, a little film called Cloverfield exploded onto the scene. Now I was not a big fan of it, but ‘found footage’ films are not really something I like so that was no real fault of the film itself. There were talks of a sequel but nothing ever came about in the years that followed, and then one day 10 Cloverfield Lane (see review) kind of appeared in 2016 with almost no promotion and it was amazing, one of our Top Films of 2016. So given there was some similarities but also differences between the two films that preceded The Cloverfield Paradox there have been a lot of discussions as to what their relationship was. Are they all connected together, or are they more like an anthology series, for example, American Horror Story? We today we get the answer … well, sort of, when the sequel to both films dropped on Netflix with no warning. So let’s dive in and take a look.
So to set the scene, it is the, I want to say, near future and the Earth is running out of ‘energy’, fuel lines pour out from petrol stations, and war is rumbling across the globe as government look to secure what little resources are left. In a last-ditch effort to stave off apocalypse a group of scientists from across the globe get together on the Cloverfield Station to test out the Shepard particle accelerator. We have the American commander Kiel (David Oyelowo), the British coms officer Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), reactor experts from Germany and China Schmidt (Daniel Brühl) and Tam (Zhang Ziyi), as well as the support staff Monk (John Ortiz) their Brazilian doctor, Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) their Irish technician, and Volkov (Aksel Hennie) a Russian in charge of the environmental systems. This experiment is the best hope to create unlimited energy and save the planet from tearing itself apart. Well after two years of tests and things getting worse and worse on the planet, they finally got the Shepard particle accelerator to fire in one of the last tests they could perform. All is going well until like clockwork everything falls apart, and to make matters worse it is not just the station falling apart, things on Earth are not great either as Ava’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) looks out his window and sees explosions rip through the neighbourhood, has war finally broken out?
Now I am probably going to be a bit negative about this film, and I think with good reason, but just because there were some issues with the film, does not mean that there were some aspects which they really got right. The first thing has to be the cast, and I have to give full props to casting department for their amazing work here. The cast felt like a team that had been through two years together and while strains were starting to show, especially with what was happening on Earth, you could feel that bond there. They all had different personalities and drives and the film does a good job of setting that all up in a relatively quick sequence at the start. Indeed one of the highlights of the film for me was that first montage of failure as they tried to get the partial accelerator to fire, which was helped by a great score by Bear McCreary. In fact, the only major issue I had is that the film had Elizabeth Debicki in it but does not really give her anything to do until the final act. As well as this, I think the film had some really good production design, from the uniforms that all had the right logos and felt like real items of clothing that you would wear in the situation. As well as this, the construction of the Cloverfield Station was really interesting. The design of the station itself was fascinating, with the rotating stations giving the allusion of gravity, along with a central spine with the reactor at the top. From an iconography and a design perspective, it was really spectacular. As well as this, the internal spaces felt constant with that style of building but also their own design, added to by the windows constantly rotating giving the sets a feeling of motion and clearly locating it in space.
Now while there was a lot that I liked, for me it just could not come together as a film, and I think a lot of that came down to the story. Just a quick note, because we are talking about the story there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead, so if you have not seen the film you should be a bit careful progressing from here and may want to jump to the end. Now I should say that this is a film that is almost written for me, it is a science fiction film, with world building future Earth, and a multi-national crew trying to solve a growing crisis, that is my jam, but it just doesn’t work. There are three areas that I just didn’t connect with the film’s story, the linkages, the references, and the missed opportunities. The first issue was that the primary reason for this film to exists was to link the Cloverfield cinematic universe together and not to tell an interesting story in its own right. It kind of felt like Batman v Superman (see review) in reverse, where it keeps grinding the narrative to a halt so it can insert its ‘wink, wink look at this Cloverfield reference’ section. I honestly think that these films would have worked better as an anthology series and that would have at least been unique in the cinema landscape rather than following the same route as everyone else trying to get on that Marvel bandwagon.
To add to the issues with originality, I honestly think this film cribs from just about every sci-fi horror film I have ever seen and hits almost every clichéd moment, and yes, if you ignored us before there will [SPOILERS] here, you have been warned. Have the commander sacrifice his life so others can live, bonus points that he lies to them about it first, yep. Have a character spasming on a medical table, die and then have something explode out of his corpse, yep. Have two people struggle for a gun only to have it go off while it is between them so we have to wait for a moment to see who was shot, yep. One crew member will have a deeply personal character motivation and will have to choose between that and saving the Earth, yep. I don’t mean to be negative, but the start of the film was just so promising and then they kind of did nothing about it.
Add to this that the notion of paradox kind of exists here just to handwave away any of the inconstancies that might happen. For one example take Mundy’s arm, in one sequence his hand phases through the hull of the ship ok, and then they pull it out but the rest of his arm is missing. For some reason, we see the stump with all the muscles and bones and he does not bleed out everywhere, and up to this point, it is interesting if a bit implausible. Then his arm is found crawling through the station, so they put it in a box where it seems to have sentience on its own, and using a pen locates the missing gyro in Volkov’s body. So here are the questions this sequence raises and that the film never answers. How is the arm moving without a body, how does the arm have sentience without a head, how does the arm know where the gyro is, and how the hell did that gyro fit inside his body when it was at least if not wider than him? It is like this sequence only exists to move the story forward and could have been replaced by a simple autopsy which would have saved all the silliness.
In the end, do we recommend The Cloverfield Paradox? Probably not. Now if you are a big fan of the Cloverfield films then you will probably get more of a kick out of the little, and some less than little, references that are scattered throughout the film. Also, it is being released by Netflix, so it is not like you have lost anything by giving it a go, other than your time. However for me, in many respects after watching The Cloverfield Paradox the first film I thought of was not 10 Cloverfield Lane instead it was Passengers (see review) from last year. It is also a film with a great cast, and fantastic production design, which just didn’t quite work because of how they presented the story. It just needed a bit more work in pre-production to bring out all its glory.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Cloverfield Paradox
Directed by – Julius Onah
Story by – Oren Uziel & Doug Jung
Screenplay by – Oren Uziel
Based on – The Cloverfield franchise
Music by – Bear McCreary
Cinematography by – Dan Mindel
Edited by – Alan Baumgarten, Matt Evans & Rebecca Valente
Starring – Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Donal Logue, Rodger Davies & Clover Nee with Simon Pegg, Greg Grunberg & Ken Olin
Rating – Australia: MA15+