At one point, it was known as God Particle, then the working title was reported as Cloverfield Station. Now Paramount and Bad Robot Productions have finally unveiled the third Cloverfield movie, Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah. Whereas the first entry in the series revolved around the lost footage of a band of partygoers escaping from a monster attack and the second was a thriller inside a bunker, Paradox takes us aboard a space station that also shares the franchise’s name. This particular twist on the formula was overshadowed by how out-of-nowhere its premiere on Netflix was, following a notably epic Super Bowl.
Sadly, the connections in this latest movie to the franchise are pretty loose, and there were points where I felt like I was watching two different films that were somehow mashed together in a blender. It’s a lethal combination that prevents Paradox from coming off like it deserved a theatrical release, and more like a SyFy Channel original picture with better production values.
Despite the warnings of a scientist who believes it could open portals to other, possibly dangerous dimensions with monsters (the “paradox” the title refers to), the crew of the Cloverfield Station is unconvinced the massive Shepard particle accelerator will run into those sorts of problems. There’s a worldwide energy crisis in the near future, and Shepard just might be humankind’s key to a new power resource.
It looks to be a success at first- until the crew discovers that the Earth apparently seems to be missing. Things get even stranger from there (not a reference to that famous Netflix show) when they find a woman named Mina Jensen (Elizabeth Debecki) trapped inside the ship’s interior, who claims to be an engineer. Crewmembers Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Tam (Zhang Ziyi), Kiel (David Oyelowo) and the others aren’t sure if they should believe her at first.
But their priorities shift when the ship starts to attack everyone in sight, including severing one worker named Mundy’s arm (Chris O’Dowd) before the arm comes to life on its own. Mundy seems to take this development in stride, or at least better than a shocking secret Jensen shares with Hamilton. Meanwhile, Ava’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) and a young girl run for their lives from a mysterious threat that’s suddenly attacking the Earth, with the Cloverfield Station nowhere in sight.
The dramatic tension comes off like reheated Alien- in fact, one scene is ripped right from the 1979 film- or a less thrilling version of Alien Covenant. I didn’t hate Covenant as much as other people did, but you’d think Paradox would be able to clear that hurdle. I was wondering what the hell was going on and why certain characters were pissed at each other far too often. And outside of the connection Ava and Michael shared, most of the characters either felt bland or not especially likable, making it hard for me to stay invested.
What’s cool about the Cloverfield franchise is how subversive it is. Even if they’re not perfect films, the first two entries were executed in a fashion that kept the viewer engaged and usually felt fresh, 10 Cloverfield Lane in particular. Even if they leave some questions unanswered or a few avenues unexplored, the core narratives are strong enough to hold everything else together.
Unfortunately, Paradox doesn’t advance beyond the usual “scientist trapped in deep space” clichés you’re probably seen before. There isn’t much about it that ever feels inspiring, or like the viewer has been transported to a new world. And it’s so weird watching Mbatha-Raw deliver this impassioned performance for such a muddled, bland script. Between her, Oyelowo, Debicki and the rest of the cast, you’ll leave the movie feeling they deserved better.
Some of the visuals aren’t too bad. The interior of Cloverfield Station has a nice color scheme, and the Shephard accelerator has a nice glow to it. And Bear McCreary adds a nice, emotionally effective score. But these weren’t enough to overcome the general lack of hope in the story.
If you’re going to write a bleak tale, can’t it at least make sense? Sure, Devilman Crybaby wasn’t the jolliest of fables, but there were clearly defined messages and an innovative narrative behind it. At times it felt as if the screenwriters are piecing together plot twists using terms picked blindly out of a hat, which made it hard for me to stay invested in what’s happening to the characters. The script is far too focused on shocking swerves than it is taking time to let the audience grow attached to the cast.
Cloverfield Paradox isn’t the absolute worst sci-fi film I’ve ever seen, but compared to how exciting and original the first two Clover-films felt it was something of a letdown. Mbatha-Raw and Debicki were effective enough in their roles to where I wish their subplot had its own film, detached from the ship trying to eat everyone for whatever reason. I invite you to give it a watch and decide for yourself how you feel about it, but overall I’m giving this one the thumbs down. It was a confusingly written mess that wound up being the weakest movie in the series to date for me.