A Wasted Opportunity 

Perhaps what makes The Cloverfield Paradox so frustrating is that it squanders the gifts it has been given. The Cloverfield franchise was on track to be one of the most promising and most interesting attempts at cinematic world building in recent memory. Rather than make straight-up sequels, Bad Robot was crafting creative genre pictures under the Cloverfield banner, sort of like feature-length Twilight Zone episodes, where the stories may not be directly connected, but they all act as part of the same strange, otherworldly multiverse. 10 Cloverfield Lane came seemingly from nowhere and delivered a masterfully written film that managed to be both a character drama and a big, bold sci-fi picture. All the pieces are in place for The Cloverfield Paradox to do the same, but it never proves up to the task.

Worse, still, is the fact that the film ultimately wastes a phenomenal cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ava is the only character who stands out, and Mbatha-Raw is, as usual, wonderful. But the actress deserves better than this; she deserves to lead a good sci-fi tentpole film, not whatever this is. The cast around Mbatha-Raw includes David Oyelowo, as the ship’s captain; Daniel Brühl, as a suspicious scientist; and Chris O’Dowd, offering a bit of comic relief. The rest of the crew is rounded out by Ziyi Zhang, John Ortiz, and Askel Hennie.

But who are any of these people? Aside from O’Dowd’s comic relief bits, the rest of these characters are utterly blank. We learn literally nothing about them. Oyelowo, a powerful actor on even his worst day, is completely left out to dry playing a character who has nothing even close to a personality. The only other character who gets any sort of development besides Mbatha-Raw’s Ava is Debicki’s Jensen, and even then the character ends up saddled with a heavy-handed plot twist that lacks any common sense. 

It’s not all dire. The design of the film – that is to say, the costumes, the look of the ship, and the futuristic tech on display – all comes off well, and seems both practical and believable. The score, by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Bear McCreary, is often haunting and exhilarating. And The Cloverfield Paradox truly shines when it allows itself to get weird. Once the characters find themselves in this alternate dimension, the rules they know and live by no longer apply. This results in some genuinely laudable moments, including a very funny sequence where a character’s severed arm comes to life and proceeds to crawl across the floor, a gross-out moment where a character loses control of one of his eyes, and a disturbing scene in which a character vomits up thousands of worms.

Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. The rest of the film is full of that never-ending exposition and characters making preposterous decisions that leave the viewer on the verge of throwing up their hands and exclaiming “What the hell is this?” For example: Debicki’s Jensen, who has literally materialized out of nowhere in the walls, tells the crew that Brühl’s character is not to be trusted, and they instantly believe her. That’s just one of many ludicrous moments that pepper The Cloverfield Paradox and we haven’t even really touched on the bullshit happening back on earth. These earth scenes are clearly the result of reshoots, and one wishes the filmmakers had never even bothered as they add almost nothing to the narrative. 

Director Julius Onah occasionally reveals a distinct visual eye: a shot of a video being projected on a window, filmed from outside said window while drifting through space, is legitimately haunting and arresting, and a moment on earth, where something huge and shadowy drifts through a plume of smoke surrounding a wrecked building, will give you chills. But far too often, Onah seems to have decided that Battlefield Earth was the sci-fi film he most wanted to emulate, and populates The Cloverfield Paradox with a plethora of dutch angles.

The Cloverfield brand still has life. Already, there’s talk of Cloverfield 4 – originally a war movie called Overlord, about allied troops discovering potentially supernatural Nazi experiments. It sounds like a neat premise, but so did the premise of The Cloverfield Paradox and look how that turned out. Bad Robot needs to decide what they want this franchise to be: do they want to take clever, original genre stories and release them under the tried and tested Cloverfield name, or do they want to take original scripts and rewrite them into the ground, awkwardly shoehorning in Cloverfield connections here and there. They can’t have it both ways.

If Cloverfield is to continue, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t, it would be wise if the producers took a long, hard look at what they did with 10 Cloverfield Lane, and use that as the gold standard to move forward. As for The Cloverfield Paradox, it will likely enjoy a nice, comfortable home on Netflix, where it can be easily streamed with little to no effort, and then and promptly forgotten about. 

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net