‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ Review

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Our Rating

Cloverfield references5
5

A franchise you say? Oh, go on then…

On a vast orbiting space station a multi-national group of astronauts and scientists carry out an experiment aimed at creating limitless clean energy, while the world below teeters on the brink of global conflict…

Hi there, MetalHead here! Quick question for all the loyal readers out there, how many of you knew that ‘Cloverfield‘ (2008) was actually the beginning of a franchise? If any of you says “yes, of course we did beard-face, now leave us alone to play Minecraft”, or something along those lines, then you’re a gigantic fibber. Back when it was originally released ‘Cloverfield‘ became the byword for secretive, under-the-radar marketing, with campaigns featuring trailers and posters that revealed very little, while a viral website also proved to be maddeningly obtuse, featuring lots of guff about a Japanese soft drink and not much else. As directed by Matt Reeves (but with the fingerprints of producer J.J. Abrams unmistakably visible, not least in that marketing campaign), upon release the movie provided a fair few answers, as you’d expect. Essentially a found-footage sci-fi horror, ‘Cloverfield‘ can be fairly described as a mash-up of ‘The Blair Witch Project‘ and ‘Godzilla‘, as a group of 20-something New Yorkers venture into Manhattan to find a missing friend, at the same time as the city is being devastated by a building-sized monster on the rampage, and, as is the way with found-footage movies, most of the main cast members were relatively unknown at the time, reaffirming the sense that you’re watching real people. Produced on a relatively small budget of $25million, the film was a success, raking in around $170million at the box office, and helping to launch the careers of several of its stars (Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel, T.J. Miller and Odette Yustman have all forged solid careers in the intervening years), while Reeves is also a man in demand, being recently linked with the next ‘Batman‘ movie at Warner Bros. There are issues with ‘Cloverfield‘; for a start, the characters aren’t remotely likable, meaning it’s difficult to care about them, while the jerky camera work had the effect of inducing motion sickness in many cinemagoers (not a great advert for any movie). Having said that, the stripped down plot (you only ever know as much as the main characters), along with the excellent effects work, make it a very entertaining bit of ‘B-movie’ cinema, and one that seemed almost certain to get a sequel. Right? Not exactly…

Despite much speculation about a follow-up, with ideas ranging from alternative views of the New York attack to an explanation of the monster and it’s origins, nothing actually materialised until 2016, when a trailer emerged for something called ‘10 Cloverfield Lane‘, a movie described as a ‘blood relative’ or ‘spiritual successor’ to the original, as opposed to an outright sequel. This is not surprising, as the original script, simply titled ‘The Cellar‘, had precisely nothing to do with ‘Cloverfield‘. Conceived as a psychological thriller about a young woman trapped in a nuclear bunker with a man who may or may not be her salvation, the script was reworked to include subtle references to the previous movie, while the basic story remained the same. To be honest, you could watch ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ 100 times and still struggle to see the connection (beyond the title, which is explained), but that doesn’t stop it being a hugely enjoyable thriller, taut and suspenseful, as well as genuinely terrifying in places, and featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. on great form. It was also another big success, both critically and commercially, meaning that the chances of a true franchise developing had grown. And sure enough, here we are discussing ‘The Cloverfield Paradox‘, the third movie in the series. Featuring a similar creation process to the previous entry, this one started out as an unrelated-yet-promising script called ‘God Particle‘, which featured a group of astronauts attempting an experiment while orbiting the Earth, only for it to go wrong and throw their very existence into jeopardy. Reworked to include some links to the previous entries (for instance the space station is called Cloverfield Station), this one has been released with even less fanfare than the first two, being released on the same day as the trailer, which also served to confirm the final name. “How is this possible?”, you may ask. Well, the answer is simple: good old Netflix. Although the full details of the deal have not been made public, it seems that Paramount, who were originally making the film, became concerned about the profitability of a film that had gone significantly over-budget, as well as having its release put back three times, and decided to simply take an easy out. Netflix stepped up with a sizeable chunk of change, and in a surprising move made the film available to all subscribers on February the 4th, after debuting the trailer (on US television anyway) during the SuperBowl, a prime spot for big movie trailers and TV spots. Now, you could make the case that Paramount’s concerns would be unfounded if the film was any good. And you’d be right. But on this occasion, they had the right idea…

The Cloverfield Paradox‘ isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s not a particularly good one either. And, for me anyway, the main problem lies in the plotting. Coming across as remarkably similar to last years ‘Life’, a film that’s still fresh in the memory for many, the vast majority of the action takes place on the titular space station with a truly multi-national crew. In no particular order they are:

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Hamilton (UK)
  • David Oyelowo as Kiel (USA)
  • Daniel Bruhl as Schmidt (Germany)
  • John Ortiz as Monk (Brazil)
  • Chris O’Dowd as Mundy (Ireland)
  • Aksal Hennie as Volkov (Russia)
  • Ziyi Zhang as Tam (China)

It would be nice to report that this crew all get along fine, working diligently towards their goals. And that may well have been the case at the outset of the mission but, as we join it two years in, everyone is basically at each others throats as the continued failures, coupled with a deteriorating situation on the planet below, are causing serious cracks to form. Arguments develop into splits, often based on lines of nationality (Germany and Russia seem to be bitter enemies), all of which builds toward one last-ditch attempt complete their mission, namely creating unlimited clean energy for the whole planet using an experimental particle accelerator. The formula in this type of cinematic situation is well established (see ‘Life’, ‘Event Horizon‘, ‘Alien‘ and many others), so it comes as no surprise that the experiment, despite initial success, ultimately fails to such an extent that the fabric of reality is at stake. I’m not exaggerating. To say anymore about the plot would have us wandering into spoiler territory, but nothing that happens subsequently will be a surprise to anyone familiar with basic sci-fi tropes. As they attempt to get to grips with the situation the crew encounters increasingly strange phenomena (just like ‘Event Horizon’), struggle to deal with events from their past (just like ‘Gravity’), and discuss a radical way to deal with the problem (just like ‘Alien’). You see what I’m getting at? Its not that these are bad things to do in a movie, far from it. In many respects it’s the perfect way to go, it’s just that here it all feels a little tired and unfocused, and you have to wonder if that’s down to whatever revisions were made to the script to make it ‘Cloverfield‘ friendly. What ideas, if any, were jettisoned in favour of what we’ve got? It’s a slightly worrying thought. It’s also not helped by the action frequently stopping in favour of a glimpse of what’s happening down on Earth, mainly through the eyes of Hamilton’s husband Michael (Roger Davies). Although we’re told early on that some sort of war in inevitable, thanks to the space station and it’s failed experiment some sort of global catastrophe is now taking place, the nature of which is not fully explained but doesn’t take much working out… And that’s what grates the most, the clumsy way this has been turned into a ‘Cloverfield‘ movie. Despite apparently taking place in 2028 (which I don’t remember being explicitly stated) there is a suggestion that this is all happening at the same time as the original movie, something which makes no sense at all, while a brief cameo from Donal Logue, as a conspiracy theorist author convinced the stations experiments will unleash hell on the Earth, ties us to the second movie, as he’s apparently related to John Goodman’s character. And that’s basically it. Considering his extensive involvement in all this, I’m starting to worry about Star Wars IX being taken on by JJ Abrams

It’s not all bad, however. The cast all perform well, with Mbatha-Raw a stand-out as the closest thing the crew has to a conscience, a woman conflicted by the knowledge that the mission takes precedence, despite what it’s cost her. Elsewhere O’Dowd provides some much needed light relief, at least when the script allows him to, while Bruhl injects his scientist with enough shades of light and dark to have you questioning his allegiances almost until the end, and Oyelowo is stoic and steadfast as the captain of this motley crew, something an actor of his ability can do in his sleep. If no-one else makes much of an impression, well they do their best but it’s really down to the script. The effects work is also fairly decent, with the station itself in particular looking tremendously advanced and shiny, while also providing another clue as to the year in which this all takes place, as it’s far more advanced than anything currently in operation (although I’m sure Elon Musk is probably working on it…). Unfortunately these are merely small detours on the annoyingly meandering road to a conclusion that wraps the story up neatly enough, but also screams sequel in the worst way. And with a fourth film apparently on the way, the mind boggles as to what direction it will go in, judging by what we’ve seen so far. Rumours are it will be set in World War II. Good luck with that…

We’re three films in now, and the ‘Cloverfield‘ franchise still doesn’t really feel like it’s going anywhere. And maybe that’s because it isn’t really a franchise at all. The first film was an effective, modern take on the monster movie with a satisfying pay-off that hinted at future possibilities that sadly failed to materialise, but the follow-ups both started life as completely different stories, unrelated to the New York-set original. As good as it is, ‘10 Cloverfield Lane‘ shares absolutely f@#*-all with its predecessor, and is best enjoyed in isolation. And the same can be said of ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved it never completely takes off, as both a film in its own right and as a part of this most pointless of franchises. There is an interesting idea hiding away somewhere in the middle of it all, but it seems to have been abandoned in favour of the spurious additions designed to link it to Matt Reeves original. And that’s a shame, because ‘God Particle’ could have been the greatest sci-fi movie ever made, but now we’ll never know. Instead we have to make do with this, a somewhat frustrating take on the story, and a movie with so little good faith at it’s home studio that they sold it. Which, in many ways, is all you need to know.

 

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.