Josh Reviews The Cloverfield Paradox
I love both of the first two Cloverfield films. I think they’re both terrific, and underrated. (Click here for my review of Cloverfield, and here for my review of 10 Cloverfield Lane.) I was super-excited when I heard that a third Cloverfield movie was in the works, and I love that J.J. Abrams and his team have figured out yet another stunt for surprising audiences with the release of the film — in this case, a Super Bowl trailer that announced that the full film was available for viewing immediately after the game on Netflix. Well done.
As with the first two Cloverfield films, the secrecy surrounding The Cloverfield Paradox is a big part of the experience of watching it, so I won’t say too much. I can tell you that the film is set in the near future, when the Earth is running out of energy. The astronauts on board a space station are working on a project to construct an enormous particle accelerator to create energy in an effort to save human civilization. Suffice to say, something goes terribly wrong.
I was really primed to enjoy this film, but sadly, I found The Cloverfield Paradox to be a dud. It’s a shame, because all the ingredients are there for a terrific film. I love the set-up. I am always excited about an original sci-fi story, and I particularly like sci-fi films set in a realistic near-future like this one. (There’s just something I dig about that sort of futuristic-but-plausible setting for a sci-fi adventure story.). I love the look of the film — the design of the space-station, the look of the costumes and the props, all of that is great. And the cast… wow. The cast is phenomenal. Just look at this ensemble: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who starred in the best episode of Black Mirror’s first Netflix season), David Oyelowo (Selma, A United Kingdom, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Basterds, Captain America: Civil War), John Ortiz (American Gangster, The Drop, Kong: Skull Island), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40, Molly’s Game), Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2), and Aksel Hennie (The Martian). That is an incredible cast!!
For the first 45-ish minutes of The Cloverfield Paradox, I was enjoying the film. It was exciting and suspenseful and weird.
But as the film progressed, it became clear that the story did not make any sense, and that the filmmakers did not have any interest in explaining or tying together any of the weird events that were happing to the unfortunate crew of the space station.
Stop reading now if you want to avoid SPOILERS. Here are just a few examples of the many unexplained, nonsensical things that happen. If the space station swapped places with its counterpart when it jumped into the alternate universe, why do we see that the alternate universe’s station has in fact crashed on their Earth? Why did the alternate-universe astronaut Mina (Elizabeth Debicki) not either a) crash with the rest of her universe’s station or b)get swapped back into “our” universe, but instead somehow found herself trapped in the wall of the station after it jumped universes? If all those worms somehow got put into Volkov’s body when they swapped universes, how on Earth was Volkov able to live and function for so long until they burst out of him? There were HUNDREDS of worms!! (Also, why didn’t we get a scene or even a line of dialogue explaining why the crew had all those worms on board in the first place?) AND then we learn that the HUGE gyroscope had also somehow gotten into Volkov’s midsection?? He couldn’t have possibly lived and been able to walk around with that huge thing inside him!! (There’d have been no room for any of his organs!) And how do the worms or the gyroscope inside of him relate to why we see his eyeball rolling around when he looks in the mirror, or why a crazy voice seems to take possession of him before he dies? How did Mundy (Chris O’Dowd)’s arm attain sentience when it was separated from his body??? And how did that sentient separated arm know about the gyroscope inside Volkov? What went wrong with the gravity in the scene in which Mundy kicked the bucket? Oy vey, I could go on and on. All of these things were exciting or suspenseful or funny (Mundy’s arm) as they occurred, but none of them make a lick of sense, and I hate films that can’t be bothered to do the work of explaining the weird events that we see transpire.
The film also makes the unfortunate choice to continue cutting back to Earth, to follow Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)’s husband Michael on an adventure with a young girl he tries to save. These scenes are awful. It’s a huge mistake to cut away from the plight of the astronauts, on their own and in trouble in an alternate universe. The audience, like the astronauts, should be wondering for the entire movie what happened to “our” Earth. Continually cutting back to Earth blows all of the tension. Maybe I could forgive this if the scenes with Michael were interesting, but we’re given no reason to care one whit about him or the girl he tries to rescue. The movie doesn’t develop their characters, or any sort of bond between the two, at all! Furthermore, the scenes are cheap-looking. While the rest of the movie looks great, they clearly didn’t have the budget to portray the enormous devastation that is supposed to be happening on Earth. It’s supposed to be the apocalypse, but we basically just see these two people in small rooms. (I read later that these scenes were added in reshoots, when test audiences said they wanted to know what was happening back on Earth. Holy moly, what a mistake!!! This explains why those scenes look so cheap, and why they don’t at all feel like a part of the rest of the movie.)
By the time we got to that “twist” ending, I was rolling my eyes. First of all, the set-up for that twist is ludicrous. Why did the surviving astronauts flee the space station, abandoning the scientific breakthrough they had struggled so hard to achieve? And why would they do so without any sort of communication with Mission Control?? It makes zero sense. I am not a huge fan of films that, in the final moments, try to pull the rug out from the audience. Sometimes it works, but often it just feels like a cheat, as it does here. (The “twist” at the end of 10 Cloverfield Lane is far more effective, as that is a full sequence that allows us to go on an unexpected ride, rather than a last-second reveal and then roll credits; also, that sequence allows for the main character’s story-arc to pay off in surprising ways, as she makes choices that feel earned and create a very satisfying closure for her. There’s no closure with the twist at the end of this film — it’s just a last second “wha??”) Also — in a further problem with the terrible Michael scenes on Earth — those scenes totally blow that last-second reveal that there are huge monsters on Earth! We glimpse a huge monstrous form when Michael arrives at the ruined hospital! It’s obvious a monster destroyed the hospital, so we’re not at all surprised to see a huge monster in the closing shot. So not only is this surprise ending stupid, it’s not at all a surprise!!!
Sigh. I am sad that I didn’t like this film!! I love original sci-fi stories, and I love that Cloverfield has sprouted into an ongoing series of tangentially-related sci-fi/horror films! Apparently, they have ALREADY MADE a fourth Cloverfield movie!! That’s awesome. I hope that The Cloverfield Paradox’s critical bashing doesn’t stymie that fourth film’s release. I’d love for this anthology film series to continue for many more films! But, unfortunately, The Cloverfield Paradox is not worth your time.