The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung
Directed by Julius Onah
In the year 2028, an energy crisis has sent humanity to the verge of collapse. The last best hope for the world is the crew aboard an orbital particle accelerator, The Cloverfield Station. Their goal is to get the accelerator running, creating an infinite alternative energy source that would cause global tensions to subside and hope to be restored. After two years and multiple tests, it appears this is not going to work out. After a few adjustments, they make one final check, expecting nothing. But something does happen, and the crew is suddenly thrown into a bizarre new reality, where the laws of physics and nature do not operate the same. Comms officer Ava Hamilton attempts to navigate this treacherous new paradigm while keeping the crew alive around her. A new crew member appears who knows all of them but whom they have never seen before in their life. Voices speak to another who becomes violent. Everything they used to be able to rely on is crumbling.
The Cloverfield Paradox is a monumental letdown of a film. I was never a fan of the original found-footage entry but ended up being a surprise fan of 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was a movie I didn’t expect, but became one of my favorites the year of its release. I think the key to why that film worked so well was that it spent most of its time exploring the characters and their relationships and left the more fantastic elements of the series as background dressing until the end. Paradox gets off on the wrong foot almost right away feeding us a montage to shorthand conflict and never establishes the connections between the crew in any meaningful way.
What I was continually reminded of while watching Paradox was the sub-genre of space crew in peril films that came out in the late 1990s/early 2000s. These were movies like Event Horizon, Mission to Mars, Red Planet, Supernova, and Sunshine. They wildly varied in quality and seeing a film like this released in 2018, the premise felt incredibly dated. Paradox did nothing to bring a new angle to the genre or surprise me in any way. The attempts at character development all read as heavily cliche, particularly Chris O’Dowd’s character. O’Dowd is an actor I have loved since The IT Crowd, and here he is near unbearable as the “comedic relief” guy.
The film is continually setting up the next kill or bizarre reveal, but these reveals never add up to any meaningful whole. I was left wondering about why the gyro ended up where it did, how the worms got out, how the arm was able to write and knew what it did. There was never any sense to a movie that wants the audience to believe it is smart. When you add in the subplot with Hamilton’s husband that anyone could feel was shoehorned into a non-Cloverfield related script, the final product was a complete and total mess. Gugu Mbatha-Raw will be a familiar face to anyone who watched Black Mirror Season 3’s San Junipero. But do not expect a performance anywhere good as that one. It’s not her fault, though because she and the rest of the cast have nothing of substance to work with.
The short hype train created by the Super Bowl was a clever marketing gimmick. But when the film you are centering this hype around turns out to be as bad as The Cloverfield Project it does long-lasting damage to the next attempt you make to be bold and brash about the next piece of media. Netflix has a reasonably strong track record of producing quality original content, but the films they seem to hype the most rarely live up to it.