“The Cloverfield Paradox” was originally titled “God Particle.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
“The Cloverfield” series may just be one of the most perplexing film franchises to ever hit the mainstream. Beginning back in 2008 with a found-footage spin on classic kaiju films such as “Godzilla,” the property has since then expanded into something of an anthology series, with each new film focusing on unrelated stories of vastly different genres all co-existing in the same shared universe. This is brought to the forefront more than ever in “The Cloverfield Paradox,” a film that focuses on what appears to be the enticing incident for the entire franchise. But despite the promise that such a premise should grant, and a wave of goodwill coming from both the quality of the previous films and the genius marketing move of releasing it the same day as its public reveal, “The Cloverfield Paradox” not only fails to add anything new to this universe, it utterly fails as a film in its own right.
The film opens right before the events of the original film: the entire world is currently being gripped by a mass energy crisis that risks spiraling the world’s governments into all-out war over the remaining resources. To stop this, the crew of the Cloverfield space station attempt to activate a particle accelerator in order to create a source of infinite renewable energy. Unfortunately, something goes wrong with the reactor during the test, and the space station is suddenly whisked away into an alternate dimension. Now the crew needs to figure out how to make their way home whilst dealing with horrific anomalies their transportation has caused, completely unaware of the horrors they may have unleased back on Earth.
One of the film’s biggest problems is its insistence on tying the events of its story retroactively into the plot of 2008’s “Cloverfield” without any regard for how such a connection would even make sense. The dramatic tension of the film is all about the crew of the Cloverfield’s attempts to get back to Earth and save it from an energy crisis that has Germany and Russia on the brink of a resource war. This is the driving force of the narrative and the plotline that is brought to prominence during the film’s climax. However, while the main cast of the film is never made aware of this, it is made explicitly clear to the audience that the monster invasion from the original film is occurring at the same time, meaning that even in the context of the film’s own universe, the events of the story amount to nothing of importance.
This would not necessarily be a problem if the story being told was interesting in its own right, but it fails spectacularly on that front as well. The film’s goal was absolutely to create a riff on the claustrophobic space thriller template made famous by films like “Alien” or “Event Horizon,” but its main method of creating tension is by telling the audience as little as possible about even the film’s basic premise. None of the characters beside the lead are given the barest hint of character depth, major elements of the plot are brought up without the slightest hint of importance leading up to their reveal and the film is littered with major plot points that are never given any satisfactory explanation.
Take the “anomalies in space-time” as an example: over the course of the film, the main threat the crew of the Cloverfield needs to deal with are a series of bizarre events where the laws of physics appear to break as a result of the accelerator’s malfunction. However, despite the fact that these anomalies are the source of nearly all of the film’s conflict, no explanation is ever given as to how these anomalies work, what is triggering them, how they can be stopped or even what they even do. Furthermore, no rhyme or reason is ever given as to what they are even capable of: one minute they are causing the gravity in a room to shift, the next they are pulling crew members into walls like quicksand and re-animating dead limbs. And to top it all off, despite their ubiquity throughout the film’s runtime, they have absolutely no bearing on the story’s climax and are left entirely unresolved, leaving them as nothing more than an annoyance.
This is not to say the movie is entirely devoid of merit; all told, the film’s actual production is top-notch. The Cloverfield space station, while lacking a bit of personality, is a well-crafted setting that is interesting to explore. While the script never gives the cast any room to shine, the cast itself does an admirable job with what they were given. Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal of main character Hamilton carries the film through its more emotional turns, Daniel Bruhl successfully makes disgruntled German engineer Schmidt memorable entirely because of his performance, and Chris O’Dowd works well enough in a comic-relief role.
All told, “The Cloverfield Paradox” ends up feeling like a paradox in its own right; it is a well put-together film with plenty of talent behind it that seems to genuinely want to tell a hard science fiction story, but it fails to do so because it cannot make up its mind about what that story should be. There are the bones of a compelling film buried in here desperately trying to get out, but an insistence on tying itself into a franchise it seemingly has no interest in adding to ultimately ruins any charm it may have held. All told, this movie was better off trapped in an alternate dimension.
Final Grade: D-