Beyond the hype of the surprise Superbowl release on Netflix, The Cloverfield Paradox is a curious little production.
As was the case with 2016’s survival horror 10 Cloverfield Lane, the film continues the attempt to build a cinematic sci-fi anthology series. As is also the case with the previous film, the film initially began production as its own narrative then got sucked into the world of the bigger property.
With talk of a World War 2-set film being ready for a release later this year, its certainly something that helps move the film’s lexicon increasingly a fair wedge away from the initial shaky-cam monster movie of 2008.
On its own terms, the narrative had potential. Initially conceived as a film called The God Particle, the film takes place in a near future where the world is reeling from an energy crisis, while also enduring wars and blackouts.
To try and combat this, the governments have set up the Cloverfield space station above the Earth, fitted with a particle accelerator that has been designed to create a new energy source.
After two years of testing yields nothing, the crew suddenly seem to reach a breakthrough. However, the experiment then overloads the circuits, and after turning it off, the crew find that the Earth has vanished.
Things then spiral out of hand quickly, be it unknown crew members appearing, a nasty incident involving worms, a missing gyroscope, and further fatal events, all while the crew struggle to cope with their situation and how to reverse the situation.
The plot elements are certainly there, and so to is the cast, who for the most part deliver solid performances for each of their respective arcs.
The character given most of the emotional heavy lifting is Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), whose character lost her children in a fire a few years before the main story, and who is one of the main driving forces in believing the experiment can work. Mbatha-Raw certainly does all she can to make the performance sit strongly and make her character arc work.
The stronger performers also include Chris O’Dowd as comic relief technician Mundy, and Elizabeth Debicki as engineer Jensen, who is the unfortunate character that appears meshed into the station systems after the experiment goes awry.
The core problem with The Cloverfield Paradox is that the script never fully hangs together. While 10 Cloverfield Lane felt relatively unscathed by being swallowed into the bigger brand, this film feels like it has bigger struggles to make the most of its relatively patchwork creation.
There is a lot going on, with the original script fused with bits that feel straight from various other sci-fi films in the last few years, and with further parts bolted on to give some kind of connection with the original Cloverfield, in the form of an an exploration of the monster’s potential origin story.
A fairly intricate script is therefore needed to make all this work. Ultimately, what hinders the movie is that it all feels less satisfying than both the film’s original premise and a straight-up Cloverfield sequel that explores this on its own terms perhaps would likely have been.
There are times when it strains to stitch together these disparate elements, and this continues when the plot fails to make sense of its more absurd eventualities that end up in extremely dangerous circumstances for a large chunk of the cast.
A lot of it seems to hang on the notion of the transition from point A above Earth to point B somewhere else without it, but it puts focus on assuming the notion and seems to hide behind it as an excuse for the more absurd moves. Such inconsistency also isn’t assisted by scenes with Ava’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) on the original Earth, which seem to only make the picture more confused.
Its ultimately this that relegates this production from a cinema-worthy release to a straight-to-streaming one that comes off as the unimpressive relation of 2017’s underrated Life. For all its decent ideas, intentions and the resources thrown at it – according to one source, this film came in 8 times over budget – it fails to truly gel.
The Cloverfield Paradox will mainly be noteworthy for its impressive marketing release strategy, and one that represents a future strategy for the franchise model. But equally, once the PR hype and all that jazz dies down, the film fails to be more than a collection of ideas thrown together in the vain hope of coherence.