A few weeks ago I sat down to watch Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic film “Alien.” Despite it being my umpteenth time watching the movie I found myself still being gripped by every second of screen time. I was on the edge of my seat, beads of sweat maneuvering their way down my brow with determination, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen next. That is the sign of a masterclass in science fiction and horror in terms of acting, directing, writing and score.
Netflix’s newest original sci-fi film, “The Cloverfield Paradox,” fails to succeed on any of these fronts.
For some context, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is the prequel to the 2008 found-footage film, “Cloverfield,” which was directed by J.J. Abrams. “Paradox” follows the release of the surprise spiritual successor, “10 Cloverfield Lane,” in 2016. Initially that movie was written and filmed as a completely separate project that was in no way related to “Cloverfield” but over the course of filming, the similarities became obvious and changes were made to add it into the Cloverfield continuity.
According to The Verge, the circumstances around the development of this film were similar in that it was originally not planned as a “Cloverfield” film and was then retrofitted into the universe. Under the project title “The God Particle,” the film was slated to be released by Paramount in theaters this coming April but in a last-minute deal, the film was sold to Netflix. Netflix then swiftly announced and released it on the night of Super Bowl LII (Go Birds!), which was a pleasant surprise, and following the critically acclaimed “10 Cloverfield Lane,” expectations were high. It would be an understatement to say that someone took a match and lit those expectations on fire, and boy, did they crash and burn.
Unlike its predecessors, “The Cloverfield Paradox” was directed by a relatively unknown director in Julius Onah. In terms of directing, Onah falls short of his predecessors and what results is a strange, disjointed, flat and boring movie. Watching “The Cloverfield Paradox” was like watching a “Final Destination” film set in the “Alien” universe without any of the suspense, atmosphere or creativity involved in either of those franchises.
Like “Alien,” the film revolves around a crew of astronauts piloting a vessel, in this case a large particle collider, in space. They are doing so in order to find a solution to a catastrophic energy crisis down on Earth. When they fire up the collider, something goes awry and they somehow manage to lose track of Earth and open some kind of portal to an alternate dimension that allows for some species of aliens to come and attack Earth, leading to the events of “Cloverfield.”
The script was dry and convoluted in a way that made minutes of the movie feel like hours. The lead protagonist Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the closest thing the film had to a multi-dimensional character and even then, she had no real arc. Not to spoil too much but the trials and tribulations the crew aboard Cloverfield Station face, as well as the outlandish character deaths, all managed to fall completely flat. None of the characters were developed well enough for their deaths to have any impact, as there was no reason for the audience to be invested in them. One character, Mundy, was almost entertaining but that was mostly due to Chris O’Dowd’s innate charm as an actor.
The worst part about “The Cloverfield Paradox” is that it had potential. At the beginning of the film, and even as it started to explore multidimensional theory, it almost had me enticed. But it quickly lost me when the crew began to fall, one by one, to increasingly outlandish, borderline comical disasters.
It would be one thing if the movie was trying to be light-hearted or tongue-in-cheek, but it was going for anything but that. The dialogue was weak, the twists and turns the script tried to spring on the audience all felt unearned, and at the end of the day the best thing that I can say about the movie is that it was visually impressive. The budget shows and we also get a glimpse of a fully grown alien from the original “Cloverfield” movie. But that was it. The rest was 102 minutes of my time completely wasted, so let me save you the time and tell you not to bother. Even if you loved the other “Cloverfield” films, just save yourself the time and rewatch one of those.