Movie Review: The Cloverfield Paradox (2nd Opinion)
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, and Chris O’Dowd
Starring: The crew of a space station struggle with the reality distorting side effects of their attempts to solve an energy crisis.
Clover Field was the original name for the Santa Monica Airport, named after 2nd lieutenant Greayer “Grubby” Clover, a WWI aviator. At least one sign still has that name on it, which can be seen from the Bad Robot offices. Thus, it has became a preeminent name in science fiction anthology hype. Almost inexplicably, because in my opinion, the Cloverfield franchise has been an exceedingly “okay”franchise. With both Paradox and 10 Cloverfield Lane, it seemed like a handy way to slap a label on them to ensure people actually saw them, which, in concept, is pretty nice.
Cloverfield Paradox is based around the very, incredibly alien concept that the world is running out of natural resources, and we are on the verge of civilization collapsing unless we figure out a different source. A multinational team is put together to test a particle accelerator generator in space because it was too dangerous to test on Earth. Many feared of the “Cloverfield Paradox,” which is when atomic whatchamacallits produced by the accelerator might tear the fabric of time and space screwing with the rules of physics and possibly even opening a portal to another dimension. It is pretty comical that the world united to get this project off the ground but couldn’t band together to tell companies to stop burning shit. However, that is beside the point.
Like in Cabin in the Woods, they say “if they don’t transgress, they can’t be punished,” which is true of most horror movies. Science fiction has their own version. If they aren’t too comfortable with their experiments, then it won’t blow up in their face. This blows up pretty spectacularly. They turn on this machine and are instantly plagued with weird stuff. A mystery crew person stuck in a wall. Another wall trying to absorb one of the crew. Worms disappearing from their tank and showing up inside yet another crewman. It feels like Alien or Life, where the crew is stalked by an alien, but instead, it is their own ship that seems to be turning into a creature of its own.
Unfortunately, it reaches peak weirdness about half way through. Chris O’Dowd’s arm is sucked into a wall and lopped off at the bicep with no blood or pain, only to have that arm show up later, working on its own, and giving them secret messages. Everything that happens after that can be chalked up to usual technical malfunctions that happen at the least opportune time possible, like any other space movie. The perils are depicted in the wrong order. You never want this kind of movie to get less weird. The tension ends up feeling like it is cooling down instead of revving up, and so does your interest in the broader science fiction concepts. It felt like it was getting to something, and all it ever becomes is “how to we get back to an environment that won’t kill us?”
It is diluted even further because it is the first Cloverfield entry to directly reference one of the previous one. Occasionally, the point of view shifts to Earth, where Mbatha-Raw’s husband is dealing with a tragedy unfolding in New York. He is awoken by an explosion and emergency service sirens. He is going back and forth between calls checking in with the hospital he works at and the groundcrew that is supposed to be in contact with his wife in space. Neither have good answers for him. He eventually makes it to the hospital only to find it demolished with a large creature just beyond the smoke and debris dust. Turns out while the space station is doing its thing, the original Cloverfield is happening back on Earth, possibly because of their reality warping experiments. These occasional trips are a distraction that serve no purpose. As a fan of comic book movies, I never thought much of the criticisms regarding world-building Easter eggs working against the plot, but that is what is happening here.
I imagine someone had a cool weird space station movie, and someone said “It’s great, but how do we make it more Cloverfieldy?” It’s disappointing that in the span of 3 movies Cloverfield could go from a label used to elevate obscure sci-fi flicks to a franchise that is gobbling up obscure sci-fi flicks to build their own weird universe.