Making movies is hard. Making good movies is really hard. And making a good movie out of an untouched script is next to impossible. Sometimes a perfectly good spec will sit in an inbox for months or even years before it’s looked at. And when they’re finally given some attention they can go through massive changes in order to get greenlit. It’s a very common practice in the movie industry and if you’re in orbit of the Cloverfield franchise it’s now par for the course. Back in 2016 the brilliant 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE made its debut and was widely praised for its sharp scene direction and intriguing mystery. In the instance of that film, it was originally called The Cellar and wasn’t connected to the Cloverfield franchise at all. Once the script was obtained by Bad Robot a rewrite was done to fit it into the universe.
Fast forward to 2018 and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is upon on, and guess what? Its script didn’t start out as a Cloverfield movie either. Hell, it wasn’t even a Cloverfield movie when it began filming. What was once called God Particle fell into the hands of J.J. Abram and Bad Robot where they made “adjustments” to the script while shooting to fit it into the Cloverfield universe. But how did THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX turn out? Well, fine, I guess. It’s weird, the film does somethings right but also comes off sort of lazy, which is frustrating. It’s a fun movie but there are portions of the film that straight up make no sense at all.
If the premise is familiar that’s because the premise is familiar. Earth is running dangerously low on energy resources and several countries are threatening war because this is how humans act as a default. After a brief introduction to life on earth, Ava, our protagonist finds herself on a space station named the Cloverfield Station where a crew of scientists are testing The Shepard (I was hoping this was a Mass Effect reference but who knows), a particle accelerator that will provide infinite energy to earth. The problem is, using the Shepard comes with some dangers. While some conspiracy theorists call it the Cloverfield Paradox everyone else seems to ignore that entirely. Well as these things tend to do, all hell breaks loose and the crew finds themselves in an alternate reality that mirrors their own with some very significant differences, like where the fuck is earth? No, seriously, the earth is missing. And trust me when I say that’s not the weirdest thing that happens to them.
I really don’t think it behooves anyone for me to go over the entire plot of THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX but understand that there’s science involved and while it’s fun, it’s not particularly good science. Leaving the bad science behind, we have a sci-fi horror movie that’s heavy on science and uses more conventional horror tropes than previous movies in the franchise. So if that’s what you’re here for, stop reading this review and have at it. But if you’re still curious about where the film goes, keep reading.
I know I keep harping on the bad science in this movie but it’s because so much of the premise hinges on some really bad logic points. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time. I found it mostly ignorable for the sake of the ride. I wouldn’t say I’m giving the film a pass but when you have the word paradox in your title, I know I’m in for some nonsense. Still, there are plot holes. Big ones if you care about stuff making sense, but for the most part it can be dismissed because science is happening.
Confusing bits notwithstanding, there’s a fair bit of horror in THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, but it comes off uneven. As is typical (especially with sci-fi horror) people make really bad decisions. Granted, it’s not ‘take your helmet off on an alien planet where organic pods are growing’ bad but people die and sometimes they deserved every bit of their demise. I cheered when it happened. What’s actually taking out the crew is made to seem like a natural phenomenon because of their dimensional jump but some of the things that happen are huge leaps of logic and I’d have loved for at least one scientist to wonder out loud why those worms were there. Or how’s that arm doing that? If weird shit is going down I want at least one person saying “what the hell is going on, why’d that happen?” Alas, we never get there.
Conceptually, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is intriguing. As a sci-fi fan, I could appreciate the core concept at face value. There’s a dimensional tear and our crew is marooned in an alternate dimension in which they need to escape from. Got it. I also like the type of sci-fi on display. We get treated to some high concept Mass Effect aesthetics mixed in with utilitarian Ridley Scott-ish sensibilities. Unfortunately, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX has to speak eventually, and it’s sort of a mess from that point on.
Whereas 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE gave us a drip feed of mystery throughout the film, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX comes at us in waves and unfortunately no one knows how to swim. There are some interesting scenes, not particularly scary but interesting scenes that are worth watching. One moment, in particular, having to do with station repairs in space was fun. I’m intentionally avoiding going into details about what’s happening on earth because we do get to see what happens there, but it’s an utter mess, and since we spend so little time there it’s really hard to care. Special shoutout to Roger Davies though, he plays Michael, Ava’s husband on earth. He does a good job with such limited screen time to make us care about him at least. That’s not to say the rest of the cast is bad. There are a number of high-quality actors, all doing their best to make sense of this mess. Chris O’Dowd also stands out from the rest of the crew.
Looking back at my time with THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX it’s frustrating how shoehorned in the Cloverfield stuff is. There really isn’t a strong connection, aside from a few one-off scenes that you can tell were thrown in to appease fans of the series like me. This is obviously a result of the patchwork script that was put together. Don’t get me wrong, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE had this quality also, but the underlying film was so strong it didn’t matter.
I did find the ending to be the film’s strongest point. It doesn’t set the stage for part 4 per say, but it opens up a lot of questions about the lore and those are the types of questions I welcome. The problem with THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is that a lot of the mysteries it throws at the viewer are about its own logic, not about the universe of Cloverfield and to me that’s a wasted opportunity. After the excellent genre-bending 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is both too by-the-book and all over the place, and it’s hard to recommend it for anyone but hardcore sci-fi fans or Cloverfield nerds.
The Cloverfield Paradox is out now on Netflix