Review by LL Soares
There’s a lot going on with THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018), and not all of it on the screen. The movie, originally called GOD PARTICLE during filming to throw people off, was due to appear in theaters on February 2nd, but then got pushed to April 20th. But this wasn’t the first time it had been delayed. Maybe it wasn’t ready? Then, during the Super Bowl, a commercial for the movie appeared, with the surprising revelation that it wasn’t going to theaters after all. It was going straight to Netflix, and would be available for viewing right after the football game was over.
Wow. That was fast! And it smacked of a kind of guerilla approach to marketing. All secrecy and surprises.
The responses to the movie have come almost as fast, consisting of a wave of negative reviews from critics, the consensus being that the filmmakers realized the movie was bad and would be a dud in theaters, so they decided to make it an event on Netflix instead.
So, is THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX as bad as everyone’s saying? I’ll admit this much, if I had paid to see it on the big screen, I would have been a lot more disappointed.
We begin in the year 2028, and the Earth is in bad shape. The first scene is of a couple, Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, also in BEYOND THE LIGHTS, 2014, FREE STATE OF JONES, 2016, and the live-action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 2017) and her husband Michael (Roger Davies, also in the British TV series GIRLS IN LOVE, 2003 – 2005 and HOUNDED, 2010) in a car, stopped in traffic, waiting to get some gas at a gas station. It’s the gas lines of the 1970s all over again. But there’s a blackout, making the whole wait for nothing. This is a world where energy shortages are everywhere, around the world, to such a degree that some countries are starting to attack each other for fuel, starting wars. And the wars are spreading.
Ava isn’t just someone waiting in a gas line, however, she’s also an astronaut, and is debating whether to agree to be part of a mission to a space station above the Earth, where a team will test out the Shepard Particle Accelerator, which possibly could create a kind of unlimited fuel that could be used to run the Earth, thus putting an end to shortages and wars. The thing is, no one know how long it will take to get this done, and she doesn’t want to leave her family. But Michael convinces her to go.
Another big question mark is what else will happen if they get the accelerator to work. Which is why they’re doing it up in space, away from the Earth. This is all “into the unknown” kind of stuff.
Aboard the space station, David Oyelowo (who played Martin Luther King Jr. in SELMA, 2014, and was also in INTERSTELLAR, 2014) plays Keil, the leader of the mission. The team of experts includes a German physicist named Schmidt (David Bruhl, RUSH, 2013, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, 2016 ), Tam (Zhang Ziyi, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, 2004, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, 2005) from China, Russian Volkov (Aksel Hennie, HERCULES and THE MARTIAN, both 2015), and Ava, who is American. There’s also Mundy (Chris O’Dowd of BRIDESMAIDS, and the TV series version of GET SHORTY, 2017) an engineer who keeps the ship running and makes any needed repairs, and Monk Acosta (John Ortiz, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, 2012, and KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2017), who is the onboard doctor.
The mission lasts a lot longer than expected. They have been trying to get the particle accelerator to work for two years, without success. They’re running low on fuel themselves, and may have to give up after a few more tries, if they still can’t make it work. So, of course for the sake of the story, the next time they try, the accelerator finally works, but then some bad things happen.
First, the accelerator overloads, which shorts out some of their computers and causes other problems that need to be fixed. Second, they look out the window and notice that they are no longer orbiting the Earth. It’s gone.
It doesn’t take them long to realize that they have entered another dimension, similar to our own, but also very different. Further proof of this arrives in the form of Mina Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki, also in THE GREAT GATSBY, 2013, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., 2015, and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies), who they suddenly find inside a wall of the space station, screaming, with various power cords and other wires and tubing imbedded in her flesh. It’s like she materialized out of nowhere in the midst of all this hardware and it ripped through her body. Somehow, they get her out of the wall and into the sick bay, where Monk does his best to treat her wounds.
When Mina is coherent enough to talk, she says that she is part of the crew, but that Tam isn’t supposed to be there—that Tam has replaced her for some reason. She’s baffled to find that none of the other crew members know her. And they all come to the realization that Mina is from another dimension where she is part of the team, and that their dimensions have collided, and sort of merged. The crew and space station are in a dimension they don’t belong in, and Mina is in their station instead of the one in her dimension.
From here, things just get weirder and weirder. One crew member is “changed” to such a degree that he goes insane, threatening other crew members until he starts puking and spasming like one of those hosts to the alien facehuggers in ALIEN (1979). Another crew member loses an arm that shows up later with a life of its own. Another finds out that the family that had died in their reality is now alive, and they have a second chance to return to them.
It’s at this point that the movie gets more confusing, with various crew members doing desperate things for personal reasons, some of which makes sense, and some of which doesn’t. But while this growing weirdness is badly done, I understood the feeling they were trying to get across, the pure alienness of two dimensions merging.
In trying to illustrate the complete chaos the crew is experiencing, the storyline loses its coherence as well, and while that may be intentional, it doesn’t do the movie a lot of good. I can see why a lot of viewers were turned off to it. It’s too bad because the idea has potential. By going in the direction of pure chaos, it kind of captures some of the unworldly confusion and fear that the crew must be feeling. Too bad it wasn’t more adept at getting this idea across. Also, despite what happens, there aren’t any big scares here. It doesn’t seem to go far enough. This was a missed opportunity, where things could have gone in a very scary direction. But it just doesn’t do that.
It’s implied by some dialogue (especially a television program they are watching – beamed from Earth – early on) that the particle accelerator is the reason all of the weirdness of the first two CLOVERFIELD movies happened. The monsters and aliens. But that doesn’t make total sense, either, since the first CLOVERFIELD appeared to take place in modern day 2008 (not 2028), and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) appeared to be happening in the aftermath of a weird alien invasion. Despite the assurance that the three movies are connected, the connections aren’t as logically sound as they should be, which I guess, in a nutshell, is the entire thing that’s wrong with THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX.
Oh, and the first two movies are far superior to PARADOX. The first CLOVERFIELD used the “found footage” style to give us a very original take on the giant monster movie, and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE benefitted from a claustrophobic setting and terrific acting from John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr.
The cast of THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is good, but there’s nothing oustanding about the story it tells.
While it’s produced by J.J. Abrams, who brought us all of the CLOVERFIELD films, it’s directed by Julius Onah (THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE, 2015), and was written by Oren Uziel (22 JUMP STREET, 2014, and SHIMMER LAKE, 2017) and Doug Jung (a writer for the underappreciated Cinemax series BANSHEE in 2014, and the movie STAR TREK: BEYOND, 2016).
I think THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX tries to pull off something interesting, but it doesn’t succeed in making it work. I give it one knife.
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.
© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares