A surprise release, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is visually stunning but a letdown of a story.
Following the footsteps of its predecessors “Cloverfield” and “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the arrival of “The Cloverfield Paradox” took the world by surprise. Netflix debuted the film’s first trailer during the Super Bowl mere hours before releasing it directly to stream. Unfortunately, this release strategy is the only thing surprising about it.
Each film in the “Cloverfield” franchise follows a different genre: the original “Cloverfield” was a monster movie (and the only film since “The Blair Witch Project” to utilize found-footage well), while “10 Cloverfield Lane” was an unexpected delight of a locked-room thriller. “The Cloverfield Paradox” continues this trend, but rather than aiming for one genre, it becomes a combination of a slasher film mixed with classic brainy sci-fi and just a few too many homages to the “Alien” films.
The world of “The Cloverfield Paradox” is a grim one, set in a vague future, where political tensions are high and the world is facing a serious energy crisis. International crises have brought nations to the brink of war. In a desperate attempt to solve the Earth’s impending doom, a team of scientists orbiting Earth experiment with a particle accelerator in the Cloverfield space station, but when they turn it on, strange things begin happening.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, “The Cloverfield Paradox” works. The direction, acting, score and cinematography are all top-notch. However, all these elements crumble like a piece of gluten-free bread, because while “The Cloverfield Paradox” has all these ingredients, it lacks the backbone of a movie: a solid script. Or even just a coherent one.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” feels like the type of thing you would get if you fed a machine-learning program all the sci-fi movies from the past 40 years and then had it write a screenplay based on what it had learned. The film spits out tropes that have no relevance to the plot for seemingly no reason. Things loosely tie together at the end, but the exposition is so shoddy that any attempts at redemption or despair feel unearned.
The problems with “The Cloverfield Paradox” likely stem from its identity crisis. The original screenplay came from a different film entitled “The God Particle,” the rights for which were then purchased by Bad Robot Productions with the intent to tie it into the larger “Cloverfield” franchise. Because of this, the screenplay underwent a series of revisions that led to this frankensteinian film. “Paradox” suffers as a result. It quickly becomes apparent that the film went through several rewrites, scenes don’t fit together and the narrative moves disjointedly. The film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or say. It leaves no lasting impact.
So many elements feel disjointed and out of place, questions demand answers that are never given. An entire subplot devoted to life back on Earth is completely irrelevant and serves only very mechanical plot purposes to tie in with the larger “Cloverfield” franchise. There are space worms and lost arms and other oddities so absurd it leaves the viewer wondering if the whole thing is supposed to be a comedy.
I really did want to love “The Cloverfield Paradox,” and there are some parts that I enjoyed, shining through like cracks of light in a dark room. The cast does its best with what little the script gives them. In particular, lead actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s monologue towards the end sells her grief in a tangible way, while a single shot of ship captain Daniel Oyelowo quietly crying speaks more words than pages of dialogue.
Sci-fi films of late have spent too much time paying homages to classic films such as “Alien” rather than investing time developing their own story. If I wanted to watch “Alien,” I would watch “Alien.” There is very little to be found in rehashing tropes that have been around for ages, other than a sense of nostalgia. The real paradox to be found in “The Cloverfield Paradox” is far less interesting than its original premise. For a film set in the future, it spends far too much of its runtime time living in the past.