Review: 'The Cloverfield Paradox' is Not Nearly as Good as It Should Be
by Alex Billington
February 5, 2018
What a surprise. Netflix rattled the cages of Hollywood by suddenly premiering the new Cloverfield movie streaming online just hours after the first footage debuted during a TV spot in the middle of the Super Bowl. So here it is - The Cloverfield Paradox - Bad Robot's next new sci-fi story that has been repackaged as a Cloverfield sequel/prequel to continue this "franchise" following 10 Cloverfield Lane (from 2016). Oh, how I wish this film was much better than it is. Alas, it's quite a big let down, not nearly as good as it should be, a mostly messy, inconsistent, mildly entertaining high concept sci-fi film that doesn't amount to much. And clearly the Cloverfield aspect in it was stuffed in, it's so obvious, and it doesn't add anything to the overall story. The basic idea behind this is cool, but the execution is not, and the film suffers from a lack of finesse.
The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah, was originally shot a few years ago as a film called God Particle. The screenplay, written by Oren Uziel from a story created by Oren Uziel & Doug Jung, involves a space station orbiting Earth testing a particle accelerator system in hopes of discovering an unlimited, renewable source of energy. But when they activate it, things go wrong, and suddenly they realize Earth has disappeared. The film fluctuates between being half horror, half hard sci-fi, but never quite finds the right balance or even a good flow to the storytelling. It all feels so rushed, without spending any real time to get into the scenes or even explore the station itself. The Cloverfield Paradox borrows ideas from all kinds of different space sci-fi films, including: Sphere, Sunshine, Alien/Prometheus, Event Horizon, Europa Report, even last year's Life. But it's never better than any of them, and feels derivative more than anything unique.
The primary concept of this movie seems to be that by activating the particle accelerator, the space station ripped a hole in space/time and hopped over to a different dimension. In this other dimension, things seem to be completely different, and they're trying to figure out how to get back to normal (rather, back to their own dimension) while very weird, entirely unexplainable things start to happen to the crew and the station. There's a few lines of dialogue that actually explain things nicely. "This dimension is eating us alive." And, unfortunately, the more accurate description: "Logic doesn't apply to any of this." Unfortunately, this line describes one of the main flaws: there's absolutely no logic or reasonable explanation for anything that's happening, it all seems so random and disconnected. And it all seems to be happening purely for the sake of making cool horror things happen to the crew. It's inspired by Sphere, but nowhere near as smart as Sphere.
The separate storyline on Earth featuring actor Roger Davies as Michael seems so clearly added after as a subplot to connect this otherwise standalone sci-fi film to the first Cloverfield movie. It's blatantly "oh hey, look how this all ties together" and doesn't feel organically a part of the space station story. I honestly do wonder if this would've turned out better if they had just left it as an standalone space station alternate-dimension thriller, and tried to make it the best version of that, rather than try to fit it into the "Cloverfield franchise" - which has obviously become nothing but a tricky marketing gimmick where they rework some Cloverfield touches into an existing original sci-fi story. It worked well for 10 Cloverfield Lane, but does not work here. Which is a bit of shame. This film deserves better, and the Cloverfield franchise deserves better.
There are some elements of The Cloverfield Paradox that I do like. The score by Bear McCreary is kind of awesome, and stands out in particular, perhaps because the rest of it is so dull. The production design by Doug J. Meerdink is spot on, nothing new or different, but some nice work on the space station. There are so many ideas that seem half-baked, and/or cherry picked from our modern world. For example, the 3D printer, which is still old school and clunky and doesn't fit in this film at all. It seems to be something that the filmmakers looked at in today's times and thought "oh that's cool, they'll probably use this in the future in better ways" yet that doesn't actually make sense. There's no real thought behind these sci-fi ideas and the spaceship interaction is mediocre compared to Prometheus or Sunshine. And if you thought the crew in those films made annoying these-aren't-real-scientists mistakes, you'll lose it with this. They don't even try.
On top of all this, not a single one of the performances stands out, which is a shame, because this has a hell of a cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the lead, and she's wasted, which is an impressive feat. There's all kinds of talented people on the space station crew: Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo, Chris O'Dowd, Zhang Ziyi, John Ortiz, Aksel Hennie, and Elizabeth Debicki. For example, Chris O'Dowd - he's a talented actor, a charming guy, sometimes hilarious, other times heartfelt. In certain roles, he's perfect, making relationships work or bringing humility. But he just does not fit in The Cloverfield Paradox at all. His jokes are so jarring and out-of-place, just enough to make you cringe. I don't really understand how this all happened, how it turned out so bad. But there's nothing we can do, except hope that the next Cloverfield film turns out better.
Alex's Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing