MULTI-VERSE CASE SCENARIO
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (15)
Director: Julius Onah
Screenplay: Oren Uziel
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl
Review: David Stephens
Wow. Well THAT came out of absolutely nowhere. If there’s nothing else you can admire from each and every film in the “Cloverfield” franchise, it’s the level of secrecy and underground marketing. The original “Cloverfield” kept its monster and content secret to make a big splash at the box-office, and still be an effective found-footage film. “10 Cloverfield Lane” was announced and released within a month, after being filmed under an alternate title. Now the film formerly known as “Cloverfield 3”, before being formerly known as “God Particle”, before formerly known as “Cloverfield Station”…*deep breath*… before being called “The Cloverfield Paradox” is finally here. On Netflix. In a couple of days of audacious planning, it trailered with a spot on the NFL Superbowl before going straight to the premium streaming service. You have to admire the wrangling that goes into that. Especially after we (and most of the world’s entertainment sites) were bemoaning the lack of information for it. The film is directed by Julius Onah, written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, and produced by J. J. Abrams's Bad Robot Productions. So without further ado, YGROY pinches ourselves to check it’s not a hallucination or a “Son of Crocodile Dundee” stunt, and watches the film…
In the near future (2028 to be precise), the Earth is undergoing an energy crisis… which is lamely represented by a single queue of cars at a petrol station. To try to and solve the problem, the world’s governments have combined to send their elite scientists to a space station (called “Cloverfield” natch) that is orbiting the planet. It contains a particle accelerator that will provide unlimited power…somehow, and is basically a big hadron collider in space. Despite warnings from “experts” that the use of the machine could cause ruptures in the space-time continuum, the plan goes ahead. Brit Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is mourning the loss of her children but boards the project in an attempt to save the population and her husband. Kiel (David Oyelowo) is in charge of the mission, with other International crew members including the likes of Tam (Zhang Ziyi), Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), and Mundy (Chris O'Dowd). The accelerator experiments only becomes successful after 696 days of intense effort, but a sudden failure shuts it down. When attempting repairs, the crew are aghast to find that Earth has seemingly vanished and they are apparently adrift in space. And then things really get bad… and weird.
After the hugely enjoyable monster antics of “Cloverfield” and the brilliant narrative of “Lane”, hopes were high for this entry in the unorthodox franchise. Unfortunately, at least for us anyway, it doesn’t reach the heights of those films. What we basically have is a slightly muddled sci-fi thriller that recalls the situations of (or even just plunders from) previous films like “Event Horizon”, “Life”, “Gravity”, or “The Philadelphia Experiment”. Even “The Thing” gets a call-out, although in a much milder form. On top of this, several chunks of narrative have been added that do go some way to at least partially explain how all three films connect together, but it honestly feels a little forced and rather blatantly provides get-out-of-jail-free cards for the prequels and the upcoming next entry. You could argue that “Lane” also does that, but that had such a strong central narrative and emotional connection with the characters, that it worked.
We’d probably feel a bit more positively disposed towards the film if it wasn’t for some dodgy dialogue and weird tonal shifts. It’s hard to take a film seriously that includes the deadpan line; “You believe that their attempts to solve the energy crisis could unleash demons”. Further examples like “I’m okay… it’s the rest of the world that I’m worried about” just don’t feel natural or realistic. Whilst we’re not expecting strings of expletives in a film like this, a little more passion from the characters wouldn’t go amiss. Most of the cast just get a bit weepy or open-mouthed during the life-shattering moments. In fact, only Elisabeth Debicki really makes an impression as the mysterious Mina Jensen, and the performances move up a notch whenever she’s the focus of the plot.
For the most part the story just follows the standard disaster-in-space routine, with the crew bastardising various parts of the station to try and resolve their situation. This leads to at least one unintentionally hilarious scene with a character’s arm that just beggars belief, where their reaction seems way off-key. There’s gallows humour and then there’s misjudged comedy, and this leans to the latter. There are also unlikely events involving water and magnetism. Otherwise it’s take-your-pick on who survives and where the story will end.
To be fair, and without going into spoiler territory, there are some interesting ideas thrown into the mix regarding multiverses and suchlike. It creates some interesting dilemmas for certain characters and opens up some intriguing situations, but for the most part it’s just brushed over, with reality warping and impossible scenarios being readily accepted by the crew with a shrug and “let’s get on with it”. So straightforward tension sequences mix in with big sci-fi ideas that don’t really gel. Like “Lane” (which started life as “The Shelter”) it’s obvious that this story has been manipulated to fit in with the “Cloververse”, but “Lane” had a great central story and believable sympathetic characters to carry it. This feels like a low-budget sci-fi story that has had some bucks thrown at it to provide a lynchpin for the franchise.
There is a whole world of background mythology created by JJ Abrams, accessible by viral ads and ‘ARG’ (augmented reality games). From this you can just about formulate a timeline of incidents and links between the films. “Paradox” does carry this further. It does actually answer questions…whilst really never providing explanations. The worrying thing is that it’s created a universe where any outrageous event can be referred back to this film, and it feels like a bit of a lazy trick to be honest. So we get an ending that will either make your eyes roll with its fan service, or hug yourself with glee. There’s also plenty of other links to the ongoing mythology, like another shelter, an author called Stambler, and more product placement for the soft-drink “Slusho”.
On its own, minus the shout-outs to “Cloverfield” (they do literally shout it out) and with better dialogue and characterisation, this could have been a pretty good sci-fi horror. As it stands, it doesn’t match up to the previous films, despite the “answers” that it provides. So far it’s been mauled by the majority of mainstream critics (although genre sites have been kinder), but it has created a huge forum of discussion online about the meanings and timelines of the franchise. Along with the clever marketing and surprise appearance, we have the feeling that this was the ultimate objective all along, and it worked. We just hope that the upcoming “Overlord” (“Cloverfield 4” by any other name) provides a more cohesive experience.