The Cloverfield Paradox
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, and Elizabeth Debicki
Directed by: Julius Onah
Written by: Oren Uziel
Review by Justin Partridge
Kaiju-sized Spoilers Ahead!
The Cloverfield franchise/anthology/whatever-the-hell-it-is gets a shaky, but schlocky fun third installment in the form of The Cloverfield Paradox. Dropped in our laps mere hours after a tense Super Bowl ad. The latest effort finds the series following a multi-racial crew aboard a space station equipped with a particle accelerator with the aim to solve the world’s energy crisis.
While the cast squeezes blood from stones, the film boasts a higher level of production value than we are used to seeing from the streaming giant’s filmic efforts. It can’t rise above a lackluster script that fails to hide the seams of the better movie it was before the Cloverfield monster got its grubby, franchise hungry claws all over it. Not exactly the standard definition of “great” but a specific KIND of “great.” The Cloverfield Paradox is an ambitiously flawed slice of sci-fi perfect for a boozy Saturday night.
The crew of the Cloverfield Station has been at work for two years. They are no closer to sustainable energy. After a showy, decompressed opening sequence that captures the monotony and numbing routine of the crew’s failure, scored by Bear McCreary’s soaring and fraught score, we are dropped back into the movie in media res. Of course, this time something goes wrong and the crew find themselves lost in another dimension. They fight the increasingly weird physics-defying horrors that are plaguing the station.
On paper, that sounds super friggin cool, right? And with this CAST?! I mean, clutch my pearls! While the movie wastes little time getting to its Event Horizon inspired space-horror, the wheels pretty quickly come off. For one thing, the script seems to flaunt a pretty laissez-faire attitude to its own internal logic. Both seen on the station and on the ground in a threaded set of scenes designed to connect it to the events of the original Cloverfield. You see, as the crew tackles weirdness across the stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character’s husband starts trying to make sense of what is happening on the ground. But, as you’ll remember, Cloverfield happened ten years ago. The design of THIS movie seems to suggest some kind of future tech and setting.
Sure, there is a quick scene of character actor Donal Logue walking audiences through the concept of paradoxes. Opening up the possibility that this accident in this movie rippled across both OTHER Cloverfield movies. This culminating in a gigantic cameo from the Cloverfield Monster at the end. This presumably unleashes hell on both alternate dimensions. However, the film only ever slaps at the idea and never really gets to the bottom of it.
This flimsy logic permeates through the entire movie and makes it feel like a series of horror based, sci-fi vignettes instead of a cohesive film. Weird things just seem to happen for the sake of weird things happening. Not for the sake of the overall story. Should it have tightened up these treads and maybe have given a bit more beef to the overall connective tissue of the Cloverfield franchise, perhaps this would have been a better experience. Throughout the movie, it just feels like too little, too late.
It isn’t a complete loss, monster fans! The script may be dumb as hell, but the cast sure doesn’t make it sound that way with a varied and pathos-filled set of performances. Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton is our stalwart lead. Even though her character completely changes motivations like four times through the course of the movie, she never once phones it in. She continues delivering grace, grit, and a (sorry, guys) raw magnetism that makes her impossible to look away from.
David Oyelowo’s Kiel is our commanding officer with the gravitas to boot. He plays the thankless role of the straight man with tact and poise. Chris O’Dowd and a striking Elizabeth Debicki round out the cast. Imbuing a real sense of comedic timing and stoic creepiness to the cast respectively. It isn’t lost on me that a big-budget science fiction movie is and anchored by POC actors (one of which, never even speaks English once!). I just wish this script would have been up to the caliber of actors it had cast.
Verdict: A Tentative See It. The cast certainly brings it and director Julius Onah delivers a few truly great sequences, but The Cloverfield Paradox is too messy to be truly called a “must watch.” Think of it more like your newest go-to big budget mess to put on when you have a party or drunken riff-fest with your friends. If you want a good “haunted house in space” movie, you watch Event Horizon. If you want a half-hearted explanation of what’s happening in the Cloverfield “universe,” watch this.