Review – ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ is a tonally muddled, but interesting, sci-fi tale

Luke Stevenson is one of the hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast. He is only serious about Bee Movie.

Poster for 2018 Netflix sci-fi The Cloverfield Paradox

Genre: Sci-Fi
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 5th February 2018
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Julius Onah
Writer: Oren Uziel
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi
Synopsis: A crew of scientists working aboard a space station must find their way home after a mishap with a particle accelerator strands them in an alternate dimension.

 

 

The Cloverfield franchise has always been associated with ambitious marketing. The mysterious viral advertising campaign for the first movie in 2008 is still the stuff of legend and the sudden announcement of 10 Cloverfield Lane a mere month before release broke new ground for how studios can make sequels and still be successful.

The ambition of both has been usurped by the latest entry, The Cloverfield Paradox, which dropped on Netflix moments after the Super Bowl and without any trailers – or indeed a warning to let us know this film existed. On this occasion, though, Cloverfield’s ambitious marketing may have been matched by a film that blends hard sci-fi with the touchstones of modern space adventure/horror movies. The end result, like this introduction, is a bit muddled, but it’s an enthralling watch that does succeed in whetting the appetite for more Cloverfield movies.

We start on earth with Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who decides with her husband Michael (Roger Davies) to take part in the Cloverfield space mission to try and find a new energy source for an Earth which is running out and is slowly falling apart under the pressure of coping with the ensuing geopolitical crisis. On the ship, Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Kiel (David Oyelowo), Volkov (Aksel Hennie), Tam (Zhang Ziyi) and Monk (John Ortiz) join Ava in running a particle accelerator experiment, without success, for years in a bid to fix the world’s energy woes, before a glitch in the machine turns their situation on its head.

For fans of the great television sci-fi mysteries produced by Bad Robot, like Lost and Fringe, what follows is a real treat. Parallel dimensions and realities are introduced with abandon and melded into classic elements of body horror and plot-twisting one-upmanship. As with Lost and Fringe, the explanation is on the light side and part of the film’s problem is that its limited script doesn’t seek to dig any deeper into the sandbox it has created for itself.

 

 

The relationship with this main plot and the ‘Earth plot’ – i.e. the one where a giant monster destroys New York and assaults Mary Elizabeth Winstead – is teased enough to make you intrigued as to their connection, but are left distant enough to not touch much more about the franchise’s mythology. Much like the legend of the first movie was built on the years of theories that followed, Paradox will do little to stop that corner of the fanbase, with plenty of new elements introduced to help fans explain what the franchise doesn’t seem interested in doing.

There are flaws, in many cases glaring ones. As the script is hackneyed and cliched, its overall plot follows the traditional tropes of ‘trapped on a space station’ drama and the ‘Earth plot’ feels crowbarred in to satisfy the amount of relevant minutes they need to qualify this as a Cloverfield movie. Viewers unhappy with the seemingly tacked-on monster ending to 10 Cloverfield Lane won’t like this film’s meaningless B-plot, which goes through some effort to feel more natural than its immediate predecessor, but doesn’t feel much more valuable to anyone other than a Cloverfield fanatic.

The final product is a tonally muddled movie, duelling between the desire to plunge into deep sci-fi plot twists and wider Cloverfield mythologies and the need to satisfy broader audiences with tropes that are executed adequately, but feel blunted in a movie with such ambition hiding underneath the surface.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Overall, The Cloverfield Paradox just about works as an interesting sci-fi movie that adds intrigue to the Cloverfield universe and keeps you suitably entertained for its two hours on screen.

However, there are clear and justifiable reasons Paramount saw fit to give you this installment of one of its prize franchises in your living room, rather than ask you to go out to the cinema to see it.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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