The following review for The Cloverfield Paradox contains spoilers, you have been warned.
After more than a year of delays, the movie formerly known as The God Particle and briefly known as Cloverfield Station finally sees the light of day. The third film in the J.J Abrams produced anthology franchise gets a new title and a surprise immediate release. I’ll get this out the way now; I liked Cloverfield, it was a neat twist on the found footage genre and the giant monster movie. I could have done with a lot less shaky cam, but Matt Reeves’ film was an effective low-budget spin on a genre usually reserved for blockbuster fodder.
Two years ago, a trailer hit the internet for a movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane, and it caught just about everybody unaware. Announcing a release date in two months time, producer Abrams and Paramount Pictures did an excellent job keeping it a secret. Shot under a different title (The Cellar), 10 Cloverfield Lane set this franchise up as an anthology with fleeting connections to the monster invasion. News swiftly followed that The God Particle was going to be the third instalment, then the film was met with a neverending string of delays and troubles.
Production problems should never cloud your judgement of a movie before you see it, and I firmly believe in seeing something before writing it off. Plot-wise, it’s the near future, and The Earth is suffering from an energy crisis that it can’t casually ignore and the world’s space agencies have banded together in a last-ditch attempt to save the human race. Their plan, to launch The Cloverfield Space Station to test and new particle accelerator that could provide the planet with an everlasting source of energy. However, (there was always going to be a however) after firing up the particle accelerator causes a malfunction, the Earth seemingly disappears. Once they dispel any notions that the Earth has been destroyed, the crew discover that they’re actually stranded in a hostile alternate dimension.
Borrowing bits and bobs from Alien, Event Horizon, Sunshine, The Thing with a dash of The Mist, there is a real kitchen sink feel about The Cloverfield Paradox. But perhaps its biggest problem is an overall lack of tension despite the apparent high-stakes. Generic things start to befoul the crew; people get infected/possessed, they start seeing things, worms erupt from one crew members’ mouth, and Chris O’Dowd’s severed arm is a supporting character, wait what! Okay, so not everything is completely generic, but the whole thing feels like we’ve seen it all before.
Regardless of the behind the scenes issues, the surprise release is fitting for Cloverfield, A sudden release allows everybody to go in not knowing much, a rare treat in these spoiler-filled times. That said, the swift release and Netflix paying enough money to Paramount that the film was immediately profitable, feels more like damage control than pioneering. Hey, it’s called the movie business for a reason folks.
As much as I admire the marketing strategy (or lack of), I’m so disappointed that the film wasn’t better. For all of its lofty notions and dalliances in a scientific field I find endlessly fascinating, The Cloverfield Paradox still resorts to slow camera pans through corridors, crew running around screaming, and cheap shocks. The cast that includes Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, Zhang Ziyi, and another strong turn from Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Black Mirror: San Junipero) do their best with the material, but the clunky dialogue and minimal character development will test your patience.
Tonally, it’s all over the place; we can swing from Alien homage to surprisingly funny sequence where Chris O’Dowd loses an arm painlessly, to a speedy autopsy all within ten minutes. The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t completely without merit, but fans of Abrams’ Fringe will note more than a few similarities with the season two episode Jacksonville. In that episode, two universes crash together after an earthquake on the other side causes ripples across both universes. Naturally, that similarity has a lot to do with the theoretical science beyond the notion of alternate realities.
The connections to the rest of the Cloververse are slight (until the overbooked ending) and can’t escape a shoehorned in feel. Had this been released as The God Particle with no links to Cloverfield I think critics and audiences would be more forgiving. Hopefully, the World War 2 set next instalment titled Overlord will get things back on track. Maybe it’s already on Netflix somewhere under a different title.
★★ What could have been an intelligent sci-horror ends up a derivative and messy collection of ideas from better movies. The saving grace is a great performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, some fine cinematography from Dan Mindel (The Force Awakens), and the music from Bear McCreary.