Cloverfield Paradox, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/07/18 14:20:06
In 2008, J.J. Abrams pulled off one of the biggest surprises in recent Hollywood history by producing “Cloverfield,” a film so top-secret that no one even knew of its existence until a trailer, with plenty of eye-catching visuals but no title at that point, appeared in front of “Transformers,” and which turned out to be a pretty entertaining riff on alien attack movies. Eight years later, he somehow managed to pull off the same trick a second time with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a loosely connected project that was so under the radar that even the stars did not realize that they were making a “Cloverfield”-related film and which also turned out to be a fairly strong entertainment as well, even if the link to the previous film was tenuous at best. Of course, pulling off such a trick a third time was going to be a challenge and indeed, there have been rumors for months that a film that Paramount was producing by the name of “The God Particle” was yet another “Cloverfield”-related item, a fact confirmed when the studio scuttled plans for a theatrical release and instead elected to sell it to Netflix, where it was scheduled to premiere at the end of April. However, Abrams pulled off the biggest of the “Cloverfield” coups with a pair of ads airing during the Super Bowl that tantalized people with their very first look at any imagery from the film, now called “The Cloverfield Paradox,” and then shocked them by announcing that it would be available to stream a couple of hours laters after the end of the gameIf only a sliver of the audaciousness that went into unveiling “The Cloverfield Paradox” to the masses had gone into the actual making of the film, the result might have been a bona-fide genre classic or at least a work on par with its predecessors. Alas, while those films backed up their stealth promotional campaigns with strong stories and intriguing riffs on standard genre tropes, this one has nothing to offer viewers other than an astoundingly hacky compendium of elements lifted from any number of other and generally better productions whose tie to the previous “Cloverfield” projects is so tenuous that it almost seems as if it was added on after the fact. The promotional gambit may have worked in the sense that it presumably exposed the film to millions of potential viewers that might not have noticed it if it had dropped in April as intended but it may have also backfired in the sense that it lured them into watching a movie so crummy that it could potentially destroy any interest in the whole “Cloverfield” concept—a bit of a problem since Paramount reportedly has another one scheduled to come out later this year based on another previously unrelated project retrofitted to become part of the universe.
As this one starts, an environmental crisis has sparked global food and energy shortages that have the potential to lead to a new world war. Mankind’s best hope lies in the hands of an international seven-person crew—played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, John Ortiz and Ansel Hennie—charged with firing up a particle accelerator that will hopefully solve all of the planet’s power problems but which is so powerful that some fear that putting it into operation could tear a hole in the very fabric of space that could lead to things ranging from alternate timelines converging on each other to the appearance of monsters and demons and the like. After a number of false starts and with tensions rising both on Earth and in the ship, the crew manage to successfully, if briefly, get the accelerator going but after the test goes off the rails, things get weird. For one, Earth no longer seems to be around and they don’t know if the ship was somehow knocked off course or if they somehow caused the planet’s destruction by utilizing the accelerator. (Of course, you would think that they could simply look for the sun as a way of getting some idea of where they are but it isn’t like these people are rocket scientists or any—uh, never mind.) For another, while investigating noises coming from behind a wall panel, the crew discovers a woman (Elizabeth Debicki) with wires and pipes embedded in her body who insists that she knows them and whose presence suggests that timelines have indeed begun to crash together.
From this point on, “The Cloverfield Paradox” pretty much becomes a free-for-all in which practically anything can happen at any time for any reason to anyone. That is a promising concept, I suppose—something like a sci-fi take on the classic Daffy Duck cartoon “Duck Amuck,” in which Daffy was at the mercy of a mischievous animator (guess who?) who changed the circumstances of his existence in a flash with increasing surreal results—but screenwriter Oren Uziel has no clear idea of how to implement such an idea. Instead of letting his freak flag fly, his screenplay offers up some weirdness here and there and then has his characters laboriously attempt to explain it using all sort of mumbo-jumbo dialogue meant to give the illusion of clarity. There is one brief section of the movie that doesn’t go along these lines and elects to go crazy instead—it starts off with O’Dowd’s character inexplicably losing his arm while trying to repair a wall and grows progressively battier—and it is the best portion of the movie because it is the one part where it seems to be doing its own thing instead of simply cribbing from films ranging from “Supernova” and “Event Horizon” to practically the entire “Alien” saga. It isn't great filmmaking by any means but it contains a spark that is woefully absent elsewhere.
Aside from that stretch, absolutely nothing about “The Cloverfield Paradox” works. There is never any real sense of tension or excitement in evidence here and whenever the film threatens to develop some kind of headlong narrative thrust, it cuts back to Earth to follow the husband of one of the scientists as he roams the countryside with an adorable orphan in tow that is as banal as can be. Director Julius Onah cannot figure out any way of making things distinctive from a dramatic or visual standpoint as the other “Cloverfield” movies did—if you stumbled upon this movie on cable, you would probably be convinced that you stumbled up a standard-issue “meh” effort like “Life.” The cast is good but none of them are able to do much of anything with a script that just gets sillier by the minute and which contains no real sense of rhyme, reason or purpose. As for the on-screen connections to its predecessors, they are as inane as can be—a number of Easter Eggs that are dropped into the narrative with a thud culminating with a final moment that is so ineptly deployed that the only reason that it might not be considered the low point in the film is because there are so many of them to choose from.If “The Cloverfield Paradox” had gone out in theaters, either as a “Cloverfield” film or as its own entity, it probably would have flopped with audiences and critics alike (there is no way that it would have screened in advance for the latter) before disappearing from view into much-deserved obscurity. Alas, by taking such a bold stance in unleashing it upon the masses, Netflix and Abrams, two of the savvier marketers around, have inexplicably shot themselves in the foot by acquiring a terrible movie, attaching a once-estimable label to it and then releasing it in a way that ensured that everyone would hear not only about its existence but just how crummy it was once the word got out about how bad it was. If it had gone out on its own as “The God Particle,” it would have been bad but people most likely would have forgotten about it within a few weeks. (Quick question—until mentioning it right now, when was the last time you thought about “Life”?) Thanks to the insane amount of hype and the shocking drop in quality in comparison to its predecessors, “The Cloverfield Paradox” will no doubt be remembered for a good long time and not in the good way. Maybe the people who made that upcoming “Cloverfield” project will have enough time to do reshoots to return itself to its original standalone status so that it can avoid the taint of this sucker and have a chance of succeeding on its own.
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