The Cloverfield Paradox is, at the very least, an interesting experiment in the future of streaming movies. But beyond buying a fun Super Bowl LII surprise, is it a movie worth your time?
The Cloverfield Paradox, simply put, is about a team of scientists on a space station trying to solve an energy crisis who run an experiment, and subsequently break time and space. Apart from that, I would say go in blind, and without many expectations.
Is it a sequel, a prequel, or something only vaguely related to the previous two entires? Well, Paradox isn’t a movie that’s very concerned with answering questions, despite trying its hardest to make itself at home in the Cloverfield family. If you aren’t familiar with the previous Cloverfield movies, this one doesn’t require any knowledge of them, but fans of the first movie especially will be in for a few fun surprises. It doesn’t even necessarily take place in the same universe as its predecessors. It does, however, offer a sort of explanation for the strange events in those movies.
While the mystery and unanswered questions are part of the fun of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, they also held an attribute The Cloverfield Paradox lacks: a strong sense of tone. Cloverfield Paradox has a real tone problem. Take the opening of 10 Cloverfield Lane for instance, where after a few brief shots establish the main character’s backstory, her car is suddenly and brutally wrecked. It’s quick, shocking, and immediately sets the tight, tense tone for every other scene in the movie. Cloverfield Paradox begins with a lot of exposition. It isn’t bad, or grating, it just isn’t gripping. It feels like a movie you’ve already seen at least a few times as an episode of Doctor Who.
The movie does eventually build some momentum. There’s a scene where the crew hears a mysterious sound on the ship after the experiment and goes to investigate. And in the climax of this scene, building to a reveal, they could have taken either a boring and cliche route, or done something scary and interesting. And to my surprise, it took the scary and interesting route. This scene is probably the movie’s best: it’s disturbing and disorienting. This scene and the ones following are when the movie excels. It turns from a good-looking but uninspired, standard space movie into a mash-up of Interstellar and Alien. Ultimately, these scenes make the movie worth watching. It succeeds at being intriguing and scary at best, which is why it’s disappointing when it suddenly falls back into mediocrity.
The cast is sadly underutilized. The likes of Daniel Bruhl and Elizabeth Debeki simply don’t get much to do. There’s no memorable character moments and no standout performances. Chris O’Dowd has some fun with his character, but his humor alternates between bringing fun to a scene and destabilizing the tone.
Maybe if the plot had strong forward motion, the lack of character development and depth could be excused, but it suddenly downgrades from sci-fi horror to uninteresting cliches once more before the third act. There’s a few moments earlier on which seem to be setting up a greater reveal or twist later, but that moment of revelation never really arrives. It leaves a few head-stretching plot holes and a little to be desired. It’s fun at first, like a Russian nesting doll of mystery, but these ideas end up being dropped, like parts of a LEGO set that were assembled but never brought together to finish the structure. The ending, however, is a heart-stopping minute that makes the movie’s lesser moments worth it.
This movie isn’t insulting or irredeemable, just a little uninspired. There are several instances it really becomes something special and fun to watch. But even when tying into the other Cloverfield movies, it doesn’t feel very earned or genuine. While being worth the viewing, it never breaches the gap of “okay”, and is best served as a movie you didn’t have to pay to see in theaters.
Rating: 7 severed hands out of 10
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The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Juilius Onah, stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oleyowo, and Daniel Bruhl, and is available now on Netflix. Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.