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The Cloverfield Paradox is so poor that it actually makes one question whether the team behind it enjoyed the first two films in the quasi franchise or whether they just liked their smart ad campaigns. Indeed, the best thing about the latest entry in the JJ Abrams produced series (originally titled God Particle) was its shock release. Following months of delays, rumours swelled that distributors Paramount were unhappy with the final product, wrestling with the edit. Then, out of the blue, Netflix bought the sci-fi on the quiet, premiered a trailer at the Superbowl and nearly immediately had released the movie on their platform. In an age where cinefiles know pretty much every detail about a film by the time it comes out, the idea of a surprise release was exciting.
It’s this, along with the fact that the movie is a blockbuster directed by a black man (the Nigerian Julius Onah, The Girl is in Trouble) starring a black woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle, Black Mirror’s San Junipero), that should make one want to like it more. However, aside from Mbatha-Raw – who is typically engaging and emotional – The Cloverfield Paradox is an incompetent mess. It’s a film where one can tell the creators just lost control, akin to 2017’s The Snowman. While the opening scenes – which are actually smart and moody – suggest the sci-fi will be a smart slow-burn sci-fi a la 10 Cloverfield Lane, Paradox descends to a series of ‘throw everything at the wall and see how much sticks’ action beats. As it continues, the movie becomes increasingly tonally strange, as well as irksome. Rapidly it becomes clear Paradox won’t be able to explain much of the events that happen; how arms get amputated and walk around, how a piece of machinery ends up in a dead man’s stomach and how strangers are found impaled in the walls of a spaceship.
Set in 2028, Ava (Mbatha-Raw) is part of a space crew attempting to solve a global energy crisis. Their method; testing out a particle accelerator with the goal of tapping into an infinite energy source. After the team – filled by a great cast (Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki) – go through with the experiment, there is a big beam of light and either the Earth or the spaceship is not where they should be.
That is a fabulous premise. A film that focused solely on space crew wrestling with the fact they have inadvertently killed eight billion people could be really interesting. However, within ten minutes (and every ten minutes after that) The Cloverfield Paradox becomes about something completely different. It wants to have the brooding Twilight Zone style sci-fi, the visceral squishy thrills of Alien and the pulpiness of Event Horizon, forgetting that those stories all had plots and an internal logic that made sense. Instead, all Paradox has is a cameo by Donal Logue as a conspiracy theorist (clearly a reshoot and not the first) explaining that the particle accelerator could unleash anything. It uses this as an excuse to stage a string of set-pieces that could be described as surrealist in their approach to story, if the rest of the film wasn’t such a lazy cash grab.
Speaking of lazy crash grab, there are the further reshoots on Earth, revolving around Ava’s husband (Roger Davies, Renford Rejects), which only exists to tie the Paradox to the other films in the franchise. Not only does this portion of the drama kill any iota of tension generated by the movies’ first half (we know Earth has not been destroyed because we see it), it does a poor job at franchise building. We are meant to believe that Paradox and 2008’s Cloverfield are happening con-currently. However, I don’t recall global energy wars being a major plot-point in Cloverfield. That is because that was set in 2008, not 2028 like Paradox. This ineptness in terms of storytelling makes it feel like the film was designed only to be an effective marketing gimmick. JJ, you are better than that. If you want to watch a newish decent sci-fi that flew under the radar, watch 2017’s Life instead.