by Charles Kirkland Jr.
The Cloverfield saga continues at the beginning, in The Cloverfield Paradox.
The Earth is in trouble. Power resources are dwindling. The countries of the world are on the brink of war over the commodities that make the world run. In order to save the world, an international space station, The Cloverfield, is created with the mission to create an unending power source for the world through an experimental use of a particle accelerator. After two years of trying, the crew of the ship makes a breakthrough that has profound and unexpected effects upon the ship and the earth.
The Cloverfield Paradox is the third entry in the Cloverfield saga from producer J.J. Abrams. The theme of surprise seems to be prevalent connective tissue through all of the series. The first aptly named Cloverfield was a groundbreaking project shot in the found footage style that was made popular by The Blair Witch Project. Prior to its release, there was no idea what the movie was because it was just mysteriously titled “01-18-08.” The trailers of the movie did not even reveal the name. The second movie 10 Cloverfield Lane did not even announce its release date (or its title) until the month prior to its release. This third movie was supposed to be called God Particle and released in theaters later in the year. In a surprise moment, the trailer and the name are released during a Super Bowl commercial without prior fanfare and is released on Netflix within hours.
Directed by relative unknown newcomer Julius Onah (The Girl Is In Trouble), Paradox starts itself well in the plot. The space station feels cramped and uncomfortable and at times unnerving as the crew spends effort after effort in trying to work together to get the station working. All along the way, subtle plot devices create suspense and foreshadow impending doom. For instance, why are they harvesting worms on a space station and isn’t it strange for the crew to be watching a news interview with a doctor (Donal Logue) who has written a book that warns against the “Cloverfield Paradox”? Onah does a crafty job of building the space suspense thriller a point that harkens back to the first Alien. Unfortunately, by the time the third act begins, all the momentum falls apart.
The story takes a slightly surprising and truly nonsensical turn after a complex second act. Once the discovery of a second dimension occurs, the main characters, all of them scientists, seem to lose the basic understandings of multi-dimensional theory and make a couple of really illogical decisions for the future of The Cloverfield. The movie ends up being a roller coaster ride that climbs up one large hill and then coasts into a small bump at the end. No twists. No turns. No loops.
While the story suffers, the strength of the movie is the all-star casting. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Beyond the Lights, Concussion) is gloriously complex as the science officer Hamilton who has the most to lose or maybe has lost the most in the mission. David Oyelowo (Jack Reacher, Selma, A United Kingdom) is Kiel, the commander desperately trying to keep the crew together. Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Basterds, Captain America: Civil War, The Zookeeper’s Wife) continues his streak of playing excellent German characters as he plays Schmidt, the man who knows the particle accelerator the best. Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Rush Hour 2, The Crossing) is Schmidt’s girlfriend, Tam. Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Molly’s Game), John Ortiz (Fast & Furious, Going In Style) and Aksel Hennie (The Martian) round out the excellent cast.
It’s still a little disparaging that Netflix has invested in this film. The visuals of the movie are outstanding. The experience of the film could be so much more satisfying if it were on a big screen. The suspense of the film could definitely be ratcheted up a couple of notches in the captive environment of a theater with surround sound speakers and controlled lighting. But understandably, Abrams seems to have chosen to use Netflix as his venue for its surprise value, which will no doubt fade quickly.
Rated TV-MA (TV movie) for violence and gore, profanity and frightening/intense scenes, The Cloverfield Paradox is an excellent dive into the source of the Cloverfield universe that seems to lose gravity the longer it goes. It tells an interesting story but, it is nowhere near the level of the two previous movies. There’s probably more in store for this universe and, if the past is any predictor, it’s probably coming sooner than expected.