It was the collective gasp heard around the world. During this weekend’s Super Bowl, a confusing and sudden commercial emerged to reveal the new Cloverfield movie was arriving. Not in April, not in theaters, but that night immediately after the big game.
Formerly known as The God Particle then Cloverfield 3, The Cloverfield Paradox was going to be the prequel to end all prequels. Would it finally explain where the aliens came from? Would it answer why the satellite fell into the ocean? And what was up with those mini monsters? Finally a prequel we waited ten years to see was clearly going to be thorough and worthy of our time. Let the excitement begin!
Like many other sci-fi films, The Cloverfield Paradox centers around a global energy crisis. A team of highly trained scientists must travel to a space station in order to use a particle accelerator to create an unlimited source of energy. The hope is that this source of fuel will save the planet.
Enter Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is suffering greatly after the death of her two children. Stricken with grief, she focuses all her energy into saving mankind alongside her talented team. This includes award-winning actors like David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, and Zhang Ziyi (somehow Chris O’Dowd made the cast list). Unfortunately, like every space horror movie, what begins as a promising opportunity to save the world quickly turns into a nightmare of being (predictably) trapped in space.
Besides being terribly unoriginal, what went wrong with this film? Everything, and all at once. The fact this was a major movie (with a built-in audience) set to release by Paramount was instead sold to Netflix, should have been the first warning sign. When the trailer dropped, people were in their feelings and they were hopeful. However, feelings are not facts, and the fact is this movie was an embarrassment of hodgepodge proportions.
Clearly a first draft of a community college screenplay without proper guidance, a sober professor, or even a half-assed mentor, Paradox doesn’t know what it wants to achieve. It lacks a singular message and therefore fails at just trying to keep its audience from dying of boredom.
The problems with Paradox start even before the movie was released. Just the title alone is the definition of a marketing lie; a last-ditch desperate act to pull in ratings for a movie that would otherwise find its way into a clearance bin at the local Piggly Wiggly. The strategy is simply: find a random sci-fi movie, throw the name Cloverfield in the title, and stream it after a football game that draws over 100 million viewers.
This movie is nothing like 10 Cloverfield Lane. That sequel featured a story that unfolded naturally, which built on tension, showcased its cast’s acting skills, and managed to fit comfortably into the Cloverfield universe. It left audiences begging for more, yet still created a satisfying movie-going experience (thank you, John Goodman). The previous two Cloverfield movies were based in realism, no matter how silly things became (no, Manhattan is not that large). Its actors were fully committed to their roles and were believable in their choices.
Paradox, however, does not feel like a prequel to Cloverfield or even a sequel. Heck, it isn’t even a proper standalone. Instead, it is a mixture of random sci-fi movies and TV shows ranging from Black Mirror, LIFE, Interstellar, Sunshine, The Twilight Zone, and Event Horizon. This is not an exaggeration, it’s literally all these movies/TV shows thrown together to create one very disjointed mess.
As a result, Paradox is riddled with massive technical editing mistakes that will have the audience think they missed entire scenes and dialogue. Plot holes never get filled, and nonsensical dialogue makes it even more laughable. However, the most disappointing aspect is that none of the actors are allowed to grasp an understanding of their characters, leaving one to believe they tossed this cast together faster than they did the script.
Director Julius Onah was simply the worst choice for this project. Instead being a guiding force that pulls the best out of his talented actors (…and Chris O’Dowd), he leaves them on-screen with nothing to do or emotions to pull from to make for a watchable movie.
Filled with laziness, Onah’s actors just stand there reciting nonsensical scientific lines at one another. This leaves the audience completely out of the loop for a good duration of the movie. Thank the acting Gods for Mbatha-Raw’s pure instinct to create an emotional connection to her character (why have you forsaken us, Oyelowo?) and try to make this movie as 3-dimensional as possible. Yet, she is only one person actively fighting a losing battle, and is no match for a movie that doesn’t even create internal conflict within the crew.
However, all is not lost. If you have the patience to tolerate the sudden wave of exhaustion this movie produces, it is visually passable. The designs are fresh and the special effects are rather enjoyable (even when they don’t make sense). There are moments that are truly shocking, fun, and rather haunting. Unfortunately, these moments are forgettable; especially since there aren’t any given reasons for why they are happening. They feel like added bits just to prevent the audience from drifting into the void of numbness.
What makes this movie even more disrespectful is that it could have redeemed itself on several occasions. The concept of multiple dimensions is amazing, the butterfly effect would have been wonderful to explore instead of being glossed over, and its one-second surprise appearance was jaw-dropping. The movie had the potential to be better than it predecessors, but no one cared enough to make that happen. JJ Abrams is losing his touch a producer. He’s gone from lens flares to ruining Star Wars, so maybe this is just his M.O. for now. This is sad because he used to produce such passable work (long live, Alias).
It’s too early to predict this, but The Cloverfield Paradox might just be biggest movie disappointment of 2018. But don’t fret! There’s another Cloverfield movie coming this year (taking place during WWII), so anything is possible. For now, Paradox is the surprise movie of the year that would have been better served fueling a fireplace.