Aksel Hennie, Chris O'Dowd, Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo, Drama, Elizabeth Debicki, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Ortiz, Julius Onah, Prequel, Review, Sci-fi, Shepard particle accelerator, Space station, Thriller, Ziyi Zhang
D: Julius Onah / 102m
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, Ziyi Zhang, Roger Davies, Clover Nee
Originally titled God Particle and delayed twice before Netflix picked it up, The Cloverfield Paradox is the third in the series that began with Cloverfield (2008 – is it really that long ago?), and continued with 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). A prequel to both movies in that it provides a partial explanation for the existence of the Cloverfield monster, this latest instalment has neither the strong visual aesthetic of the first movie, nor the strong storyline and characters of the second. It does have a great cast, but this time round the story isn’t there, and the muddled narrative that unfolds is chock-full of dramatic clichés, characters you’re never close to caring about (even Mbatha-Raw’s nominal heroine, Ava), and the kind of cod-science that sounds good unless you listen to what’s being said too closely. In essence, it’s a big let-down, both as a sci-fi movie, and as another entry in the Cloverfield franchise. And that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Oren Uziel’s screenplay was originally a spec script that was picked up by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company back in 2012, and which had nothing to do with the Cloverfield universe. Until production began in 2016…
The story is a rote one that contains elements of Alien (1979), Event Horizon (1997), and any other sci-fi movie set on a space ship or station where the crew has to fight off an unseen and/or murderous presence. It also splits the narrative between scenes on the space station that see the plucky crew trying to reverse the effects of an infinite energy experiment that has flung them into an alternate reality, and scenes involving Ava’s doctor husband (Davies) back on Earth as the Cloverfield monster makes its presence felt. Each provides a respite from the other but only for a short while, and by the halfway mark, a complete respite from the whole silly set up is required. As the script inevitably picks off its space station characters one by one, the manner in which they’re dispatched ranges from the banal to the overly thought out set piece and back again. The cause of most of these deaths is concerning as Uziel’s script seems unable to explain exactly what is going on, and how, and why. A lot happens just because the characters are in a weird situation, and it seems fitting to throw weird stuff at them – a severed arm, a crew member trapped in a wall space, a condensation issue becoming a flood – but none of it makes any coherent sense.
As a result, the very talented cast have to work very, very hard to make the most of the script’s weaknesses and Onah’s by-the-numbers direction. Mbatha-Raw fares better than most, but then she’s playing the one character who has anything like a story arc. Ava has a tragic past, and the alternate reality she finds herself in gives her a chance to change things and alleviate her guilt. Against this, O’Dowd brings some necessary humour to the mix, while everyone else offers tepid support, from Oyelowo’s nondescript mission commander to Brühl’s German (and possibly villainous) scientist – #HollywoodStillSoRacist anyone? The movie also betrays its modest production values, with several scenes, especially those involving corridors on the space station, looking decidedly cheap. All in all, it’s a movie that offers nothing new to the franchise, or to viewers who might be intrigued enough to take a chance on watching it without having seen its predecessors. With the good possibility that a fourth movie in the Cloverfield universe will be with us in the next eighteen months, let’s hope that it’s not another spec script given a Cloverfield once-over, and instead an original story that fits more neatly into the world Bad Robot created ten years ago.
Rating: 4/10 – stock characters, stock situations, a garbled political crisis on Earth, and much more besides that doesn’t work, The Cloverfield Paradox is let down by its confusing screenplay, and by Onah’s inability to make much of it interesting; a jarring experience given the quality of its predecessors, the real paradox here isn’t why it was made, but how anyone could have thought it was any good.