REVIEW: The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix

When we were kids, my brothers and I had a very particular thing we would do at fast food restaurants. We’d take our drink cups, head to the soda fountain, and fill them with a mishmash of every soda the fountain offered. We called them suicides, and while they were made of some fairly good-tasting ingredients, mixing everything together inevitably made them taste awful.

The Cloverfield Paradox is a cinematic soda fountain suicide. While it contains multiple aspects that are fairly good quality (the acting, several plot elements, etc), they’re all combined poorly: plot threads are abruptly dropped, some of the stranger happenings on the ship are never explained, and the Cloverfield connections were obviously pasted on at a later date. It all serves to make The Cloverfield Paradox less than the sum of its parts.

The Cloverfield Paradox follows seven astronauts on the Cloverfield space station above Earth, trying unsuccessfully to fire the Shepard particle accelerator aboard the station. They believe a successful run will provide a new source of energy for Earth, which is currently facing a global energy crisis; conspiracy theorists believe success will create the Cloverfield Paradox, collapsing multiple dimensions into one another and creating chaos. Given that this is a space thriller/horror movie and a JJ Abrams piece, the paradox winds up being the correct theory. The Shepard overloads, the space station malfunctions, and the Earth disappears, and that’s just when things start getting weird.

Unfortunately, it’s also when the odd mixture of plot elements starts to become very obvious. About half of what happens can be explained by the paradox the movie laid out earlier: with dimensions collapsing upon one another, some things are moved into places where they absolutely should not be. One of the movie’s best scenes is predicated on this “how did that get there” establishment, and it’s wonderfully written and acted. (Then again, any scene in a horror movie that starts with screaming coming from inside the walls is bound to be a great and terrible time.) The workings of the Shepard particle accelerator also remain consistent. When the movie establishes a premise or a bit of pseudoscience, it tends to stick with it fairly well.

The other half of the movie’s events are inexplicable even by movie science. The station becomes sentient, but only kind of! It tries to kill its crew, but only some of them, and only sometimes! There are various points in which a sentient disembodied hand is running around on its own, occasionally imparting plot information that it has no logical explanation for knowing. (And yes, I realize that demanding a logical explanation for the thought processes of a disembodied hand is odd at best, but that’s The Cloverfield Paradox for you: odd at best.)

It doesn’t help that The Cloverfield Paradox didn’t start off as a Cloverfield movie; instead, a script called God Particle was optioned and later written into the Cloverfield franchise. This is blatantly obvious whenever we cut away from the space station: the scenes on Earth only serve to establish the movie’s links to the Cloverfield franchise and do nothing to further the main plot on the space station. They’re very obviously stitched on in order to use the Cloverfield name; while they may provide some roundabout answers for the events of the original Cloverfield movie depending on how you look at them, they’re not well-integrated in the slightest.

That said, the movie’s not all bad. The Cloverfield Paradox’s greatest strengths lie in its casting. The biggest indicator that this was meant to be a cinematic release instead of made for Netflix is its star-studded cast, including David Oyelowo, Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Bruhl, and Elizabeth Debicki. Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers the strongest performance in the movie as protagonist Ava Hamilton, whose family-oriented backstory is every bit as important as her scientific knowledge and skills and her ability to act in a crisis. She’s the well-rounded “strong female protagonist” that half of Hollywood doesn’t seem to think is possible, and she’s a solid character regardless of the mediocrity of the movie she’s in. My personal favorite performance is Chris O’Dowd as Mundy – comic relief is hard to balance in a horror movie, but O’Dowd’s deadpan, grounded delivery made even the throwaway conversations that much funnier and provided some much-needed relief after tense scenes.

All in all, The Cloverfield Paradox is a mess. It’s a science fiction thriller that occasionally dips its toes in horror – enough to affect the plot, but not enough to commit – and despite its strong character writing, its patchwork nature works against it. If you’re looking for a strong, well-assembled entry into the science fiction genre, this is not the movie for you. However, if you’re looking for eighty-three minutes of weird science, light horror, and turn-your-brain-off fun, The Cloverfield Paradox is a good movie to scratch that itch. Get together with some friends, make yourself a soda fountain suicide (or, if you’re that kind of adult, an AMF) and some popcorn, and enjoy.

— Katie Cullen

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