The term ‘Cloverfield’ is something that, post-2008, immediately draws both attention and anticipation. It’s no surprise then, that the originally titled God Particle became a viral sensation on the night of Super Bowl 52. Written by newcomer Oren Uziel, the script became the latest property of J.J Abram’s Bad Robot Productions, having been acquired for a release with Paramount’s Insurge division. If only things were so simple.
With Insurge falling through, the film avoided falling into a limbo between post-production and theatrical release, before being merged into the still uncertain ‘Cloververse’, that J.J Abrams has been teasing since the 2008 release of Matt Reeves’ original Cloverfield. Unsurprisingly, a certain streaming giant struck a deal with Paramount for the release rights, but much like its spiritual predecessor 10 Cloverfield Lane back in 2016, The Cloverfield Paradox dropped out of nowhere. It’s hard not to admire the audacity of Netflix’s PR department, with the film being launched just hours after its shock trailer.
Whilst the demand for new Cloverfield films is insatiable, it’s pretty clear that Paramount dodged a box office bullet from selling the project, banking a reported $50million for a film that, in honesty, feels like an overblown straight-to-DVD title. The Cloverfield Paradox starts off with promise but soon becomes steeped in its own misdirection, with it being quickly apparent that the film went through a complicated production process.
As Earth undergoes an energy crisis with potential World-War paranoia, the story largely takes place in a space station, with an international crew attempting to salvage an energy supply in a ridiculous plot involving a particle accelerator called ‘The Shepard’. Aboard the station is a talented cast including Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd and Zhang Ziyi. It’s no Nostromo unfortunately, and a clear lack of, or confusion of identity is something that continually resurfaces. Each character is represented by their nationality, and despite their best attempts at salvaging this sinking ship, they struggle to offer much more than to run, complain, shout, or to simply stand around looking profoundly confused.
I can empathise with intense feelings of confusion, as the biggest issue with The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t its disappointment as a prequel, but its convoluted script, which is filled to the brim with undeveloped character arcs, a headache of expository dialogue involving dimensions, and ham-fisted attempts to connect the film to existing material. Ultimately, it feels like a massive waste of potential, but I won’t be too harsh on director Julius Onah, with the expectation of delivering a film of this size being a difficult task even on the smaller screen.
Where the film does manage to succeed, however, is in its more cine-literate moments, such as a clear nod to Alien in a rather grotesque scene involving worms, and a bizarre moment with a character’s arm, which has shades of The Thing. Chaos unfolds upon the Cloverfield Station in these kind of moments, but little else does so with any effectiveness. You never really believe that such characters would ever be sent on a mission to save Planet Earth, and the conflicts that begin to arise between them is rarely convincing. As Mark Kermode suitably said on Twitter, only Chris O’Dowd seems to realise it’s a comedy.
Such a fine cast surely deserved a better script to work with, without falling into the same conventions of ‘in space, nobody can hear you scream’ horror. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Hamilton is the stand-out performance, and must be mentioned for carrying the weight of the film’s baggage for 102 minutes.
It’s hard to ignore the issues, but perhaps without the Cloverfield-tag, the film would have worked better as a stand-alone sci-fi, which raises issues regarding the onslaught of existing universes more and more films find themselves in. Even the final shot feels shoehorned in to ignite fan theories on forum boards, as the monster appears out of nowhere to throw a gargantuan spanner in the works. Strangely enough, The Cloverfield Paradox marketed itself as the film which would provide answers, but this third instalment has left the franchise feeling more muddled than ever.