When the surprise trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox dropped into our laps amongst the melange of television and cinematic spots at this year’s Super Bowl, those hoping for some answers about how the monster from Cloverfield, still shrouded in mystery, came to be before tearing New York to shreds, found new optimism. The Cloverfield Paradox, the third instalment in the Cloverfield oeuvre, was originally set to be released in cinemas by Paramount but the rights were eventually sold to Netflix. Netflix decided to carry on the air of shock and secrecy that has surrounded the Cloverfield franchise by hastily releasing it onto its streaming platform rather than playing out the original strategy of a cinematic release. Perhaps, inadvertently, that was a stroke of luck; The Cloverfield Paradox is a confusing, maladroit mess.
With the earth suffering from a severe energy deficiency, leading to conflict amongst the world’s most powerful nations, Earth sends a team to a space station to use a temperamental particle accelerator in the hopes of helping to cultivate an endless source of energy. The film’s lead Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is emotionally fragile going into the expedition, leaving behind a supportive husband and a tragedy that killed both of their children. The crew comes extremely close to success until they are struck by an unexpected disaster which puts the mission in jeopardy.
As the trailer boasts, Paradox has carefully constructed its cast with a number of accomplished, if not underrated actors. Mbatha-Raw is set to break into cinema’s highest echelon, especially after her acclaimed role in the latest series of Black Mirror. She’s supported by Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Bastards, Rush, Captain America: Civil War), David Oyelowo (Selma) and Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha) which should at least point to a half-decent ensemble performance in the claustrophobic environment of an isolated space station. Elsewhere they are joined by Chris O’Dowd (The I.T. Crowd, Bridesmaids) and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) in supporting roles but there’s very little room in the script for anyone but Mbatha-Raw to stand out.
“In comparison to recent entries in that sub-genre such as Life and Alien: Covenant, Paradox comes off even worse as a cheap imitation.”
Distanced by the scientific jargon of the film’s script, it becomes very difficult to become emotionally invested in these characters, unlike the more natural reactions to disaster shown in Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Paradox’s element of human interaction and its general plot is confused, messy and clumsy with several narratives seemingly overlapping and rendering the overall plot ineffective. Considering how well the Cloverfield franchise has done to maintain the essence of mystery, Paradox does an awful job of explaining the complexities of the film’s disruptive element. The umbrella excuse used to cover this explanation undoes what could be an intriguing chapter in this elusive franchise.
There’s space for Paradox to redeem itself after the confusing first half, but the film just derails further into a beige space station panic – a trope that has been overly-mined and explored over the last few years. You can’t help but feel that someone at Netflix didn’t scout out the competition very thoroughly. In comparison to recent entries in that sub-genre such as Life and Alien: Covenant, Paradox comes off even worse as a cheap imitation. Paramount will be exhaling a huge sigh of relief; they’ve truly dodged a bullet here. Positively for Netflix, Paradox will probably still significantly boost streaming numbers just because of its attachment to the Cloverfield franchise but there will be few viewers coming out the other side fulfilled.