The Cloverfield Paradox

Orbiting above a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

Year: 2018
Certificate: MATURE
Director: Julius Onah
Starring: John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, Julius Onah, Zhang Ziyi, Aksel Hennie, Elizabeth Debicki, Clover Nee, Roger Davies

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The world was watching.

Midway through Sunday’s Super Bowl, a whirlwind of a teaser trailer stormed across the globe. The Statue of Liberty’s colossal head barrels down a New York City street captured on an aging video camera. This instantly recognisable scene is of course from “Cloverfield”, the decade-old smash hit found footage monster movie. The following 20 seconds of space station mayhem and monstrous shadows announced the third instalment (after 2016’s “10 Cloverfield Lane”) in one of the most singular movie franchise around. The real kicker? That the film would be available to stream on Netflix as soon as the game finished. It’s as audacious a piece of marketing as I can think of. If only the film was a fraction as interesting as it’s unique release…

Sometime in the future (2028, going by the film’s pre-release “augmented reality game” marketing), the world is in the middle of a catastrophic energy crisis. People are starving, major nations are on the brink of war and the Earth’s survival hangs in the balance. As a last-ditch attempt to bring the globe back from the precipice of self-inflicted destruction, the team aboard the Cloverfield space station charge up a particle accelerator (like the one at CERN in Switzerland). Should they succeed, the device will act as an unlimited international energy source. However, a major misfire leaves them stranded deep in space with no way to get home. But, as the effects of their God-like experimentation ripple through the universe, it’s unclear what kind of home they would be returning to.

As with “10 Cloverfield Lane”, this film existed as a stand-alone, non-“Cloververse“ script and was then retrofitted to be a quasi-sequel/spin-off/thing. But, whereas Cloverfield Lane worked as an enthralling contained psychological thriller — monsters or not — the sci-fi horror at the heart of Julius Onah’s film is a dull mess. An impressive cast (Mbatha-Raw, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo etc.) is maimed by quite horrible dialogue. We get little sense of what these flat characters care about, which leaves virtually every decision devoid of emotion. Even Mbatha-Raw, who is the only one given a significant character arc, only manages to show the briefest flicker of her acting talent.

The eventual franchise links are convoluted and confusing. It’s fine for this series to encourage reading and researching supplementary materials, from the cryptic marketing trails to fan theories, but they MUST serve as satisfying films. We shouldn’t have to look up what the heck is going on in “The Cloverfield Paradox”, but we do because the film is so frantically aimless. The script moves so quickly as if to distract from the tenuous franchise links and unexplained science. Visual Easter eggs are scattered throughout, but they’re surface level references disguised as big timeline-connecting clues.

The film is both helped and hindered by the franchise connections. On the one hand, it would have been even more boring without the monster mash intrigue, but it also wouldn’t have been half as disappointing. At least the promise of a Cloverfield tie-in provides one consistent reason to keep watching. It turns out that the film’s greatest treasure requires a little digging. But, according to uber-produced and franchise mastermind J.J. Abrams, this special moment of franchise synergy is no more than a “bizarre coincidence”.

The rumour goes that Paramount (the Cloververse’s parent studio) wasn’t happy with the finished film and, with Abrams too busy with Star Wars: Episode IX to work his magic, they were happy to let Netflix take over. It’s a fair fate for “The Cloververse Paradox”, a film that, while it theoretically holds quite a key position in the Cloverfield lore, will likely have expelled every ounce of its mystery within a week of its release — like a nugget of human waste blasted into deepest, darkest space.

It’s a huge shame, but I still have hope that Cloverfield 4 — by most accounts a WW2 thriller currently titled “Overlord” which is due out by the end of the year — will provide a welcome return to form for the series. “The Cloverfield Paradox” is undoubtedly a major misstep, but one hopes that whatever comes next matches the third film’s dramatic entrance, but actually delivers a film to match.

Have you seen this film? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!

About Benedict

Freelance culture journalist and Film Studies graduate. Netflix is his happy place.

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