There I was watching the Superbowl like any other sports-hating Englishman when the trailer for the third Cloverfield film: The Cloverfield Paradox began to play. As exciting as the trailer was for me as a fan of the series, there was nothing like seeing history being made once again by Bad Robot, as it was revealed that the film had transferred from Paramount Pictures to Netflix and was scheduled to be released just over an hour later when the Superbowl had finished.
The Year is 2028 and Earth’s energy sources have dwindled down to their last remnants. Meanwhile, instead of finding a quick solution quietly and efficiently, space agencies around the world band together and initiate the testing of the newly-built Shepard particle accelerator aboard the Cloverfield Station hovering outside Earth’s atmosphere. This will provide Earth with an infinite energy resource, while conspiracy theorists and general-husky-thinker-types fear that the machine will tear open a hole in space-time, thus inviting unwanted guests into our timeline and onto our planet – as well as repeating itself across every Earth in the theorised “multiverse.”
Among the Shepard crew sits our protagonist Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Hamilton, who is mourning the death of her children, is taking time away from her understandably stressful marriage to help operate the machine and hopefully save the world as we know it. Naturally, with this being a Cloverfield film, the experiment fails and after the cracking of thunder and a flash of lightning, the crew rear their heads to find nothing but blackness as the floating blue sphere called home is no longer at its designated “floaty bit.” At first the crew think that the Earth has disappeared, but it doesn’t take long – with the help of a (previously mentioned ) unwanted guest – to realise that the station itself has moved to another dimension, and the strings connecting the dimensions have become so entangled that the two realities fight each other for supremacy.
This is where the film comes into its own as Paradox is slowly revealed to be the genesis of The Cloverfield Cinematic Universe. After this, the film divides down the middle as we are tasked to focus on two mini-arcs: one led by Raw’s Ava Hamilton, as she and the rest of the crew race to reverse the damage caused by the experiment, and another that focuses on Hamilton’s distant husband Michael (Roger Davies) still on Earth as he navigates through the city rife with dangers anew – trying to find a place to hide while attempting to re-establish contact with the now-missing Cloverfield Station. The film is both a monster movie and a slasher flick, and the latter element is showcased in beautifully imaginative ways as the two universes partake in a particularly nasty inter-dimensional boxing match. The station becomes flooded with the water of the first reality, gravity becomes unpredictable, solid matter begins to merge with other solid matter with gruesome results, and the crew itself slowly starts to fall apart. The shocks are enough to keep you on edge while providing some surprising comic relief. The combination of these elements creates a refreshingly original horror experience.
It’s all a crazy, mind-boggling ballet of ideas. But, sadly it’s all a bit emotionless. The immensity of the stakes is never truly felt, as despite the film exploring the dangers of a fissuring universe – with life, love and the world in danger of being lost forever – the film hurries to put itself back together. The dichotomised storylines are useful in creating a connection between the events of the two leads, but the film fails in convincing you to feel for these characters, as this is an odyssey tale told over the course of only 100 minutes. The station slowly comes apart, as well as the crew operating it, in classic slasher fashion. Meanwhile Ava and Michael’s hometown turns to rubble and ash in the wake of the disaster. However, the urgency of the situation overshadows the personal drama between the central couple and we only get a small sense of how complicated their woes have become. As a result an impressive ensemble cast are also somewhat wasted, as the crew is made up of some big name stars, which includes David Oyelowo and Daneil Bruhl – whom are left as little more than functional moving parts within the story.
The Cloverfield Series always starts with a credible monstrous threat, but it is humanity’s addiction to the unnatural that’s really the monster of the series, and The Cloverfield Paradox is no different. The film is a cry for help in the name of the Earth itself – subverting the Sci-Fi Genre as a whole by showing us possible what-if scenarios of a dying planet. The Cloverfield Paradox shows us humanity’s “last ditch effort” to avoid catastrophe, and that premise alone is what makes Paradox a monster movie for our times; we the audience are the monsters, we just don’t know it yet.
The film also makes room for a number of Easter Eggs for fans to find, but the real fun is finding the paradoxical elements of the story – which I won’t spoil here.
For better or worse, there’s something poignant about an old-unwanted script with an original premise being picked up and rewritten as the crowning entry of a well-known sci-fi universe simply because it fulfils the needs of the producers in charge. The Cloverfield Paradox’s imaginative script and solid premise are enough to entertain, but the short runtime isn’t enough to hold the story baggage of the sizeable selection of characters.
3 / 5