A Convoluted Mess: A Review of “The Cloverfield Paradox”

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Following several delays and months of speculation, the first look at the new entry in executive producer J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield franchise came in the form of an ad spot during the Super Bowl. It was the first-ever official announcement ofJulius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox, and with it came the surprise that just two hours later, the film would be released worldwide on Netflix. It‘s an absolutely unheard of, crazy marketing strategy that worked, instantly making me as interested in watching the new film as I was in continuing the excitingly close football game that, for a mere 30 seconds, a brief trailer had managed to steal the spotlight from.

But with the film’s unique release aside, Paradox unfortunately watches quite pitifully. Stocked with a complicated mess of a plot, a large cast of insubstantial characters (even more damning due to the sheer talent of the actors that comprise the roles), and barely any driving force behind its uninteresting narrative, Paradox as a film remains stranded — not so much unlike its focal-point space station and its crew when they’re seemingly left helpless in a separate dimension from their own.

Originally, Paradox was written as a completely unrelated, standalone film called God Particle — similar to how 10 Cloverfield Lane (a film I enjoyed immenselywas originally its own property appropriately known as The Cellar. God Particle was later optioned to be the next Cloverfield entry, garnering a much higher budget (ballooning from $5 to $40 million) and slight trimmings that place it within Abrams’ sci-fi universe. But while 10 Cloverfield Lane felt unique to its predecessor and stood tall by itself, Paradox falls into a terrible trap as it becomes a little too reliant on its audience’s own nostalgia and adoration for the original film. The bevy of glaring flaws I mentioned previously don’t do it any favors either.

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Set in 2028, with just five years until the Earth’s natural resources are predicted to deplete, Paradox is focused on the multinational crew aboard the Cloverfield Station, a highly advanced space station with the purpose of shooting a particle accelerator at the planet in order to miraculously supply it with unlimited resources. Don’t worry about how that’s supposed to work; the film doesn’t really try to make sense of any of its science, and I guess we’re just supposed to live with that as it continuously displays unexplainable phenomenons throughout (just one of the many problems Paradox ultimately suffers from). Tensions are high for the station’s inhabitants after nearly two years pass without success, as well as the looming fear that every time they test the machine, they risk opening a portal to another dimension. In totally predictable fashion, they end up doing just that.

While this premise could have made for a fun sci-fi disaster flick, what ensues lacks tension, surprise, and, really, any reason to care. The more climactic moments — which involve the crew members being picked off one-by-one by the unreliable station itself — depend on standard clichés rather than introducing anything inventive or at the very least basically interesting.

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And perhaps the film’s biggest flaw lies in the complete absence of any character development for all but one member of the crew. Even the lone protagonist, Hamilton, is relatively dull. And it’s sad, too, because the actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (of Black Mirror‘s “San Junipero”), is actually pretty good. Same goes for the rest of the performers — including Chris O’Dowd, Daniel Bruhl, and David Oyelowo — who are fine and even fairly convincing in moments, but fair acting ability can only take such basic characters so far. It’s also particularly puzzling when the characters themselves seem not to care as their numbers dwindle at an increasing rate over the course of the film, and so the question becomes this: Why would we as the viewer care? Especially when these astronauts — whom I would assume are among the brightest people alive — have been written in order to not once use their brains for a single moment.

Elsewhere, a small portion of the film is dedicated to Hamilton’s husband, Michael (Roger Davies), back on Earth, in a poor attempt at drawing connections to the previous entries in the series. Paradox is at its lowest when it pointlessly switches gears to showcase such an underdeveloped side plot.

There’s not much to savor in The Cloverfield Paradox, and it’s left me rather unsure regarding the future of the previously well-made and exhilarating franchise. With a fourth entry — simply known now as Overlord — already scheduled for release later this year, I suppose we won’t have to wait long to see if Cloverfield can return to form after the dud that Netflix has so gracefully delivered with Paradox.

1.5 stars out of 5

The Cloverfield Paradox is now available to stream on Netflix.

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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