The Cloverfield Paradox
Directed by Julius Onah
Written by Oren Uziel
Barring all marketing magic, The Cloverfield Paradox (formerly titled God Particle) would have probably done okay for itself in a theatrical business model. It is also the one series where announcing and releasing it on the same day through digital streaming giant Netflix makes complete sense. The latter is what happened, and literal moments after Super Bowl 52, The Cloverfield Paradox was unleashed onto the streaming service. The result is a movie with a lot of cool ideas that evokes some of my favourite science fiction-horror films, but never cares enough to explore its own interesting facets.
As the Earth’s resources dwindle, a crew aboard the Shepherd Particle Accelerator is attempting to create a new, sustainable, renewable energy that could save billions of lives. Unfortunately, the firing of the Accelerator leads to confusion, fear, and desperation as the crew grapples with their own situation, and Earth wrestles with a mysterious threat. If it sounds like I’m dodging the plot, you’d be right. A lot of what makes The Cloverfield Paradox work (when it does) is that you never quite know what’s going on, and the movie is leaning into how confused you are. Unfortunately, leaning into confusion only works if you somehow attempt to remedy that confusion, and there is no such attempt here.
With only the most basic relationship with the Cloverfield franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox is very reminiscent of 10 Cloverfield Lane — an isolated story that built out the lore of the universe while still providing a thrilling ride. Arguably, Paradox is the more ambitious film. Once it starts explaining the possibilities of what is happening, there is so much more potential for excitement when compared to its predecessors. Unfortunately, the plot never gets there, however. Once the big reveal happens and the film becomes a haunted house of sci-fi horror, it’s clear that all the reasons for what is happening are boiled down to an affable shrug. They are neither explained nor considered; you’re just here for the Cloverfield relationship, right?
Making things worse is the cast, who are so much better than this. They’re all great in their own regard and help give the film its charm, even if it is the same charm you’d have seen in other great science fiction films like Alien and The Thing. Led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and supported by David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, and Roger Davies, The Cloverfield Paradox is assisted by personalities that mesh really well together. The high-stress situations they encounter only further cement how good they would be if this was a little more of a standard hybrid. Putting as much weight as it does on its science fiction aspects only to use them for cheap thrills is fine, but the movie never strikes a tone that reinforces that. Instead, every character comes across something weird, and the film doubles down on its initial explanation that everything’s weird and needs no further explanation.
The Cloverfield franchise is so damn compelling because of how little it is indebted to the original film. This movie barely has anything to do with it (with the exception of a terrible final shot and the initial plot twist that ties to the origins of why everything is happening on Earth). Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, however, all the cool ideas in The Cloverfield Paradox are not explored, and wind up serving a mixture of body horror and paranoia — both of which are cool, but not enough to sustain an entire film.
With a great score, stellar cast, satisfying horror moments, and an easy-to-digest pace, it’s not difficult to find enjoyment in parts of The Cloverfield Paradox. Ultimately, its downfall is an initial plot reveal that is treated like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Everything is explained away with magic, and if everything wasn’t predicated on that same magic, there would be less to be enraged about. All the pieces of the puzzle connect together because why shouldn’t they? The Cloverfield Paradox‘s greatest crime is giving up on fleshing out its sci-fi conceit while expecting the audience to be enamored enough by the mysticism of it all.