This, then, is the fate of the much-anticipated third entry into J.J. Abrams’s refreshingly-unpredictable Cloverfield series; bumped back from its original theatrical release date (and renamed from its God Particle working title) and finally, it seems, hurriedly off-loaded to Netflix and released without fanfare following the screening of a hasty Super Bowl trailer. Hard not to imagine that Paramount (who clearly wanted shot of the thing) and Netflix are just hoping that with the film’s sudden appearance (the Netflix deal has been rumoured for a couple of weeks but no-one was expecting it to arrive this quickly) that momentum from the previous films will be enough to pull in a curious audience before the reviews fly out of the paddock. Sad to report that The Cloverfield Paradox really ain’t too good…
It isn’t, however, that bad. Vexed critics denied their apparently God-given right to see films before lowly mortals will almost certainly be swinging their broadswords at newcomer Julius Oneh’s somewhat sloppy space saga. They’re probably right to do so as long as they’re doing it because the film’s under-par and not just because the new Netflix release model is starting to change the way critics and public alike are consuming Hollywood’s golden nuggets. There’s so much wrong with The Cloverfield Paradox that Paramount’s decision to pull the film away from the unforgiving glare of the Box office is entirely justified and yet on the handful of occasions when the film works it hints at what night have been and, in all honesty, what should have been. The film takes us to the Cloverfield space station where it’s hoped that experiments with the Shepherd particle accelerator will bring an end to the Earth’s global energy crisis by accessing an infinite supply of energy (science is not one of the film’s strong points). A looney tunes TV scientist warns of potential catastrophe, fearing that use of the accelerator will open portals to other dimensions, unleashing assorted monsters and demons. If you’ve seen either of the two previous (far better) Cloverfield movies, you’ll probably be able to guess where this is heading.
Sure enough, no sooner has the Shepherd been fired up than it goes haywire. The Earth disappears and the Cloverfield’s commendably-multinational crew quickly realise – we’re not entirely sure how – that they’ve been flung into an alternate dimension. Back on the Earth not only has the Cloverfield disappeared but, sure enough, Very Bad Things are happening across the planet (see Cloverfield for further details). On the space station the crew make contact with the alternate dimension Earth and work feverishly to activate the Shepherd again in the hope it’ll transport them back to their own dimension. But reality itself has gone slightly off the rails, which the allows the film to indulge in a bit of useful body horror which is alternately icky (worms exploding out of one of the crew’s body) and ridiculous (Chris O’Dowd’s Mundy’s arm being ripped off and wandering around of its own accord like a prop from The Goodies circa 1973).
What’s so frustrating about The Cloverfield Paradox’s unashamed clunkiness is that it squanders all the goodwill and intriguing dramatic potential of the two earlier films in the series. Admittedly we now get an explanation for the events of the first film but it all seems a bit prosaic and off-hand, a pseudo-scientific rationale flung together for the sake of explaining the events of a film made a decade ago. It allows for a certain narrative satisfaction (there are a couple of callbacks to the earlier films) but because The Cloverfield Paradox misfires in virtually every other discipline, we’re left with a feeling that a potentially very special baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. A fine cast – Mbatha Raw, Bruhl, Oyelowo – are given nothing to sink their teeth into, their characters little more than stereotypes shaded in with the broadest of brush-strokes, and O’Dowd (who could at least have done us the courtesy of turning something off and back on again) is clearly cast in the trademark Simon Pegg comic relief Brit role to little or no side-splitting effect.
Wearing its influences far too readily on its sleeve – virtually every spaceship movie made in the last fifty years, from Alien to last year’s far superior but criminally-underrated Life – The Cloverfield Paradox, despite a strong opening and a satisfactorily-downbeat ending, has little of real interest going on for the bulk of its running time. In truth, it’s just a bit dull. But if you’re happy to look at some acceptable visual effects and endless scenes of people running up and down corridors (and some very odd sequences where the camera prowls around the same corridors overlaid with frantic off-screen character dialogue) then you may find some superficial enjoyment in The Cloverfield Paradox. But what’s clear though, is that here we have a film which has gone very badly wrong somewhere along the creative line (possibly the result of what was originally a non-Cloverfield story being shoehorned into a pre-existing franchise narrative) and quite comprehensively deflated a series which, in its first two instalments, was determinedly not playing by the rules by teasing both the audience and indeed the industry with the promise of a long game story the outcome of which no-one could really predict. Sadly we've ended up with The Cloverfield Paradox and none of it seems to really matter now. Overlord, the fourth Cloverfield movie is apparently coming our way in October. We’re betting you won’t give a damn anymore.
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JULIUS ONEH / SCREENPLAY: OREN UZIEL / STARRING: GUGU MBATHA-RAW, DAVID OYELOWO, DANIEL BRUHL, ZHANG ZIYI, CHRIS O’DOWD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10