Feb 062018
two reels

The world is running out of energy. The only chance of saving civilization is a super-particle accelerator energy experiment being carried out on a space station. The multinational crew consists of Captain Kiel (David Oyelowo), Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Monk (John Ortiz), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Volkov (Aksel Hennie) and Tam (Ziyi Zhang). After two years of failures, the crew is feeling the stress. Things are falling apart on Earth as well, with Hamilton’s husband, Michael (Roger Davies) filling her in on the disasters. The next experiment appears to work, but then rips a hole in space and time, causing catastrophes on Earth and a string of weird and horrific events on the station, including an unknown woman (Elizabeth Debicki) appearing in the wall.

Paramount had no faith in this movie. The third film in the odd Cloverfield branding exercise was, as of a month ago, titled The God Particle. The new head of Paramount found nothing of interest in this kinda-sequel, as well as the need for quick cash after a fortune-destroying 2017 (Did you see Baywatch? Monster Trucks? Ghost in the Shell? Downsizing? Yeah, no one else did either). But no one heard another peep about this film until the middle of the Super Bowl when it was announced that it was now called The Cloverfield Paradox and would be released in a few hours on Netflix. Well, I gotta hand it to them. If you want to show how much disdain you have for your own film, that’s how to do it.

Was it deserving of such treatment? Probably. It is very familiar, “borrowing” heavily from Event Horizon (1997) and 2010 (1984) and noticeably from Life (2017) and even Alien (1979). But it doesn’t manage to say anything as coherent as any of those. The problem is no one decided what story they wanted to tell. I’m not talking about plot, but story. Was this supposed to be the arc of a mother—Hamilton—dealing with the death of her two children? How about a haunted house-type horror flick, with unexplainable and cruel things happening to our crew? Or maybe a science fiction tale of people looking at the cost of survival? Since no story is ever selected, we get a little of each and none are satisfying. Nothing with Hamilton’s grieving story is earned, particularly her late-in-film speech. We don’t feel her loss; we are just informed about it. It also doesn’t tie into anything else that happens. The haunting-type horror sprints out of the box, with unpleasant eye manipulation, an unknown woman appearing with her body pierced by wires, a wall sucking in a man’s arm, and worms exploding from a corpse. But except for one event in the third act, all that stops without explanation. Everything goes back to behaving absolutely normally. After an arm is magically dragged through solid metal, a human turning on another human is an extreme de-escalation.

Then there is Michael down on Earth. Everything he does is irrelevant to the rest of the movie. He takes up time and breaks tension. That’s it. Rumor has it that he was given extra scenes to tie this film tighter to Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but it is unnecessary. The connection is clear and is the one thing the film does well, even if it does it with bland exposition. Early in the first act, we hear of the titular paradox (that fails the definition of the word “paradox”): if something goes wrong with the experiment, then time and space will be shattered and monsters will appear, not only now, but in both the past and future. So where did the monster in Cloverfield come from if he seems to have had no effect on our world? Well, he was inserted into the time line due to the experiment. Likewise the events that concluded the second film. It’s nice and neat, if that’s what you want. Michael’s scenes aren’t nice and neat but a waste of time.

With characters we could root for, maybe the film could have evoked some emotion, but we don’t know these people and are given no connection. Hamilton is the only one with a back story and it should have been cut. The rest are black boxes. I don’t know why any of the other crew members are there (they certainly were not chosen for their emotional stability) or why they act the way they do. There is an attempt to give three of the characters a trait in making them annoyingly religious, but this comes to nothing (when Earth vanishes, the laws of nature no longer function, and horrific things happen, wouldn’t religion come into play?) so is really just a one-off quirk. The actors do their best, particularly the two Marvel alums (Brühl and Debicki) but the script gives them nothing.

I’m being generous in awarding The Cloverfield Paradox two stars, but it isn’t a bad film—it’s just not a good one—and I want to put it in a different category than the first Cloverfield movie.