The Cloverfield Paradox is the movie I feared Life would turn out to be – a bland, un-authoritative blend of repetitive sci-fi beats. The trouble is, Julius Onah’s Cloverfield tie-in has it far worse by not existing in a singular world where consequence is free of prequel/sequel logic. Connective linking to the J.J. Abrams-produced mystery franchise is a quickie afterthought; an I-Spy for viral nods in hopes you won’t pay too much attention to story details. Onah establishes a universe where anything can happen, but never properly grasps how to wield such power without losing control in a tailspin of winky references and worse expectancies. But hey, you saw the Slusho bobblehead, right!? Mission accomplished, I guess.
In the film – which begins with no immediate Cloverfield connection – a group of scientists and brainiacs board a spaceship in the hopes of solving a worldwide energy crisis. European countries are on the brink of war, so time is of the essence. Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo) leads his crew as they repeatedly blast their “Shepard” particle accelerator, all the while risking interdimensional melding (if one crazy theory is to be believed). Specialists like Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Schmidt (Daniel Brühl) sacrifice everything to solve Earth’s impending doom, but instead end up traveling to an alternate doppelgänger reality after their latest experiment goes all backwards science-y. CUE THE PARADOX!
For clarity, Netflix’s Super Bowl release gamble requires no discussion here – my assessment of The Cloverfield Paradox is on execution alone. Moreover, Onah’s time splitter isn’t memorable enough to beg our curiosity over how it might have played on a full theater screen. We *just* sat through Life and Alien: Covenant last year, and now here comes a film that could pass as an uninspired lovechild of the two 2017 Scott-esque thrillers (wrapped in Event Horizon influences). Astronauts from varying countries who band together when an “unknown” force starts picking them off one by one – heard this tale before? You have, and there’s little new to say about who can hear what screams in space.
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Remember, The Cloverfield Paradox was a Paramount release once titled God Particle. We’re talking full budget and stacked casting. Hamilton finds herself aboard an orbiting space station with multiple circular discs and technological advances that paint colorful cosmic travels. Need a bagel or a gun? Neat-o 3D printing devices can whip up food or tools in a jiffy. Then there’s some materializing gimmicks given the unstable randomization caused by the ship’s energy explosion, which leads to Irishman Mundy (comedic relief à la Chris O’Dowd) getting his arm caught *in* a wall (the film’s most unique – if a bit gimmicky – angle). All in all, Netflix’s acquired loaded-gun looks the part of cataclysmic Cloverfield instigator.
Malfunctions throughout The Cloverfield Paradox all stem from a coincidental script riddled with dumbfounded looks. In traveling through space/time continuums – or whatever techy mumbo jumbo is spat – Onah introduces a plot device where *anything* can happen at *any* given second. If characters are safe, water can appear without reason and start drowning trapped victims. If a mechanic saves the moment by fixing busted equipment, uncalled for slithery goo tentacles start choking the hero without any warning (before his tremendously frustrating death).
“Where’d the worms go,” someone asks? Inside another crew member, of course (who, uh, still lives for a while)! In a world where no rules are established, structure and connectivity are torched by “dramatic” advancement that deflects explanations from matter-of-fact actions. Simply throwing “because(s)” around makes for the least fulfilling type of tension or payoff – although, Elizabeth Debicki’s predictable arc doesn’t speak positively for what *can* be understood either.
To be fair, performances are in-line with expectations. Gugu Mbatha-Raw leads as a survivor girl type who’s given her own conflicting choice, Chris O’Dowd the wiseass with an intriguing medical condition, Daniel Brühl the shifty German. David Oyelowo, Ziyi Zhang, John Ortiz – all playing pioneers who are far less interesting than anticipated given the film’s inability to strike tension based on objective.
No matter what, we know there’s nary a light at the end of any of their tunnels. Whenever hope reaches high enough, a random danger gets conjured to cut the mood (never requiring explanation). Coincidence answers to no one, nullifying the collegiate smarts of a molecular mindbender about alien invasions, possible WWIII scenarios, galactic teleportation to mirror realms – and don’t forget those pandering Cloverfield interactions. Why make new movies when you can splice some franchise placement and a laugh-riot bookend into an already finalized feature?
The Cloverfield Paradox is a monster-sized misfire that feels disconnected from the franchise it’s crashing. Cloverfield manipulated perspective to craft a reaffirming creature-feature reckoning, 10 Cloverfield Lane built out extraterrestrial mythos in a breathless suspense scenario, but Onah’s is a film that learned little from either. Barely a single recognized scare, tension sucked like air through a ventilation vent, safe playing in between familiar sci-fi lines – is it too late to go back in time and choose Life as Bad Robot’s secret Cloverfield expansion project? Sincerely, a Cloverfield fan who doesn’t care to be burned by flash-branding again.
The Cloverfield Paradox tries to wedge itself into Bad Robot's franchise, but ultimately comes off as a quickie fixer-upper with enough story issues of its own.