The Cloverfield Paradox is the kind of movie where you feel bad for the people involved. It’s not an absolute mess, but it is full of bad ideas being poorly executed despite everyone clearly trying their hardest. It’s overflowing with cliché, its stakes are ill-defined, and it’s all just staggeringly boring. Might be best to keep this mystery box closed.
The setup, however, is interesting enough. In the same way 10 Cloverfield Lane was retrofitted into the Cloverfield, uh, franchise(?), Paradox takes a story about a dying Earth putting all their chips on a space station particle accelerator delivering free, unlimited energy and injects it with the flavors of J.J. Abrams’ loose monster threads. We follow Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as she leaves her husband (Roger Davies) behind on Earth as she joins the soon-to-be struggling mission.
Aboard the station, there’s an after school special sense of diversity with scientists and engineers from all over the world joining in on this global endeavour, but it’s presented in such a straightforward manner, it’s admirable. It makes sense in the Pacific Rim kind of way that borders don’t really matter anymore (except for that pesky ol’ Russia), so of course languages and dialects mix and match at will. That easy communication, unfortunately, only makes it easier for these crewmates to yell at each other as the Shepard Accelerator fails over and over again. Until it doesn’t.
It turns out that guy they showed on the news earlier was right: they ripped space and time apart with this thing. Either the Earth is gone or they moved somewhere clear across the galaxy where there is no Earth to be found, but they seriously fucked up. And now weird things are happening that are preventing them from figuring out a way to unfuck it all.
By the very nature of this premise, the consequences of any action are befuddling. And that’s fine if that were the way the movie wanted to play it, but instead, it trades in sci-fi tropes that rely on straightforward cause and effect rather than horror absurdism. Maybe one thing works in this errant sense of mystery, and it’s basically Alien.
But when you finally find Mina Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), it’s funnier than it is harrowing. The knife in the leg scene of Talladega Nights was more tense. And when Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) gets, uh, involved with the ship, it’s just confusing. How does the that space-time paradox cause something like this?
In short, it doesn’t. Well, it does, but the connective tissue between cause and effect just doesn’t exist here. And this is where Abrams’ hijacking seems to really come into play. About 90% of this movie is haggard, incomprehensible storytelling, but that same 90% feels like it simply doesn’t belong. As if director Julius Onah and writers Oren Uziel and Doug Jung had something completely different in mind.
It’s like it was written by Uziel and then Star Trek Beyond writer Doug Jung was brought in by Abrams (at roughly the same time Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken’s The Cellar was turned into 10 Cloverfield Lane) to insert the bare minimum amount of Cloverfield mythos so they can just find the film later in the editing bay. Mundy’s thread, Hamilton’s husband’s earthbound escapades, Jensen’s eventual conclusion, and Monk’s (John Ortiz) religious bent all seem to hint at a movie that exists in another timeline.
It renders the final act of the movie completely devoid of emotion and tension and excitement despite it so clearly wanting that. The speech delivered directly to the audience, the Terminator-esque stalking, and so much more (cribbed from sci-fi predecessors that have done it all better) just end up with an awkward death, some dull walking, and a complete mishandling of any drama cultivated up to that point.
You’re probably wondering at this point with all that’s clearly wrong (let’s not even get started on the corny writing), what stops it from being a complete mess? It’s the exceptionally talented cast salvaging what they can from this train wreck. It’s Onah’s ability to conjure feelings from just the way a single shot is framed. It’s basically everything that hints at what could have been.
What could have been but isn’t. We have The Cloverfield Paradox. And damn I wish we didn’t.
Final Score: 5 out of 10