Taking the whole world by surprise when it was unexpectedly released on Netflix with no fanfare or prior build-up (as well as it all happening when a lot of us were in bed, myself included), the latest film to take place in the Cloverfield universe, The Cloverfield Paradox, is set at a time when the Earth is facing a devastating energy crisis and it’s up to the multi-national crew of a space station, making use of an onboard particle accelerator, to develop a sustainable source of power for the whole world to use. But when an apparently successful test results in the space station ending up in an unknown part of space, coupled with a whole load of strange goings on, which include their guidance system disappearing and a mysterious woman appearing in the walls, they must find a way to repair the station and to get back to where they came from in order to save the people of Earth.
On the positive side, the cast is pretty decent and although there are some minor, nitpickety acting issues, most of them do quite well. Continuing to prove herself as a shining light of film and TV, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great in the leading role, clearly getting the greatest amount of backstory and developing her character well throughout the feature, showing genuine emotion when it comes to the scenes involving her family and taking control of the rest of the crew towards the end. The rest of the main cast, which includes Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, David Oyelowo and Chris O’Dowd (who is tasked with being the comedic character, though the comedy is sadly misjudged and often awkward), are perfectly fine but their characters are too thinly written for them to make a proper impact and none are allowed to give truly memorable performances.
Daniel Brühl and Elizabeth Debicki together on screen though. So it’s “When Baron Zemo met Ayesha of the Sovereign” . . ?
The film is also technically proficient as the effects are well done, the production design is sleek and well thought out (though the “spinning, wheel-like space station” concept immediately calls to mind the likes of Interstellar and 2001), and the film certainly looks like a proper big budget endeavour, helped by a good score from the masterful Bear McCreary.
But despite some decent performances and its big budget design, The Cloverfield Paradox is otherwise quite the disappointment as it quickly proves itself to be a derivative and fairly generic sci-fi/space horror piece that seems to follow a very familiar set of rules and offers no real surprises and only a handful of standout moments. Basically, there’s a crew out in space, they try something, it goes wrong, bad things start happening, people start dying, there’s a bit of Alien style body horror, there’s something that needs to be fixed, they have to suit up and go outside, and then there’s that one character who isn’t all that they appear to be – a particularly annoying part of the film as this particular revelation is so blindingly obvious, so misguidedly directed, that the character in question may very well have had “SHIFTY” written on their forehead right from the get-go. We also have a B-story that takes place down on earth, its primary function apparently to create that link to the rest of the Cloverfield universe, but it doesnt go anywhere special and is ultimately too slight and inconsequential (what was the point of finding that kid?)
The biggest culprit in the film’s undoing is the script, which is very often incredibly expositional (blatantly spoonfeeding the important contextual information within the first two seconds) as well as being quite stilted and emotionally manipulative towards the beginning and very technobabbly and confusing when it comes to the “ship in peril” parts. The story itself may very well have had potential at one point, and admittedly there are some engaging and interesting parts scattered throughout, but the film often gets rather boring and the script is overall quite lazy and clumsily put together – not something that we should expect from the Cloverfield universe. And on that note, the film seems all too aware that it’s a part of this particular cinematic universe and perhaps makes too much of an effort to tie itself into previous instalments – the closing tie-in is definitely not as satisfying as the finale of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
It’s a crying shame because considering last year’s disappointingly unoriginal Life, you’d think that filmmakers would take special care not to repeat those same mistakes but with The Cloverfield Paradox, they’ve done exactly the same thing – another film that plays it safe, a film that can’t help being an uneventful and slightly tiring Alien/Gravity mashup.