Wubba Lubba Dub Dub
Multiverse theory is one of those concepts that’s an absolute goldmine for science-fiction writers, and yet it’s rarely ever done well. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Rick & Morty and Bioshock Infinite of handling the idea with a degree of coherence and the ability to watch them, but other films have struggled desperately to make it work. Films like today’s entry, and sequel to 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Cloverfield Paradox. Well, I say “sequel,” but as I had long held, the Cloverfield franchise is meant to be a horror/sci-fi anthology series rather than films that continue the stories of a unified world in the mold of a cinematic universe. Despite many fans drawing connections between the three movies, I don’t find the allusions to the other movies produced by J.J. Abrams to be all that interesting…because the movie he dropped on Netflix post-Super Bowl like an unwanted child is such a glaring mess of ideas, that I barely have time to cover why it fails as a franchise entry.
My, I’m dropping my overall opinion too early these days, let’s pull back and try to focus on the so-called plot. Basically, Earth is in the middle of a generic energy crisis that we are told is getting real bad, without ever seeing how bad it’s getting on the planet because we find ourselves in the company of six astronauts aboard a space station attempting an experiment to solve said energy crisis. We primarily follow Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as she tries to keep her crew together along with her captain, Kiel (David Oyelowo), the ship’s engineer, Tam (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s Zhang Ziyi), Tam’s husband, Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), comic relief Chris O’Dowd as Chris O’Dowd, and two personality-less redshirts played by John Ortiz and Askel Hennie. The crew are messing around with a hyper-powered particle accelerator that is theorized to cause mass disruptions in space time that could tear holes across the very fabric of reality. But with dwindling resources on Earth, time is running out for the station crew to find a solution to the planet’s energy crisis using this godforsaken piece of technology. But as they get closer to finding a viable energy product than they’ve ever gotten before, a massive power surge leaves the station in ruins, and the Earth missing from the station’s view. Also, weird shit starts happening, like finding a woman (Elizabeth Debicki) trapped in the walls and crew members acting suspiciously.
Some of the Cloverfield die hard fans may abhor my characterization of the plot for “giving too much away,” but believe me when I say this is barely scratching the surface of this absolute mess of a film. And no, it’s not because the whole idea of alternate realities makes for a confusing affair, it actually doesn’t here; it’s because from this basic set up that you have a cascade of glaring mistakes and plot holes popping up everywhere. Honestly, every five minutes Paradox finds a new and sloppy way to create more confusion based on some easily-correctable contradictions that were probably left in earlier drafts of the script when it was still making the rounds in Hollywood as “God Particle” (incidentally, it explains why the crewmates alternate between calling the station “Cloverfield” and “The Shepard” throughout the movie). Which brings to me a very specific problem with this movie, and the Cloverfield series as a whole: the universe “connections” are easily the most distracting part about this movie.
See, both this film and 10 Cloverfield Lane started off as a low-budget sci-fi horror flicks that zero connection to the 2008 film. However, when J.J. Abrams became attached as a producer for the latter, reshoots and/or rewrites were ordered by the popular filmmaker to add in a bunch of tiny background details that connected to promotion of the first Cloverfield film. Something similar occurred to Paradox, but Abrams has now chosen to make the connection between this movie and the 2008 film more overt by featuring direct plot points appear in both productions while also offering this Netflix-release as an opportunity to explain the events of the first entry in the series…but not really. Yeah, that Super Bowl trailer is absurdly misleading because you don’t get the big “reveal” about why crazy shit happens in this so-called universe in probably the weakest ending for a sci-fi flick I’ve seen in a LONG time.
And yet, while the tenuous Cloverfield connections are distracting, they are honestly the least of this film’s problems. Hell, as you’re watching the movie, you quickly realize why this production was punted to Netflix, because theater-goers would have been pissed off at the cheap production values, the weak characters, the unnecessarily slipshod plot, and some frankly bizarre editing of a B-story featuring the protagonist’s husband (Roger Davies) dealing with what I assume to be the “fallout” of the particle accelerator test. This portion of the movie definitely feels like a post-Abrams addition to rigmarole since it tries, weakly, to draw connections to 10 Cloverfield Lane that really feels unnecessary to both the series and this individual film. Hell, this B-story barely comes back around to the weird stuff happening on the space station…actually it barely connects to the other entries to this series as a whole, so it could have been cut entirely and you wouldn’t have noticed a bloody difference.
As for the shenanigans on the space station itself…it’s alright. It’s average. Run-of-the-mill. You have some gore-less body horror in a few scenes here and there to give you flashbacks of Event Horizon, which made me appreciate that truly awful film just a little bit more for at least trying to scare you. But honestly, you don’t care about any of the fates of the various crew members. And it made me look back on last year’s Life, with a bit more fondness, Alien–ripoff warts and all. So when a movie is making me look back at other sub-part sci-fi flicks, you know we have a major problem on our hands.
Now this may all be due to the fact you have a second-time feature film director at the helm with Julius Onah, who has mostly had a career in shooting short films before this. Honestly, he handles this production with all the incompetence I see among direct-to-DVD filmmakers, but he must have gotten lucky with a script that took J.J. Abrams’ attention and managed to stay on the project to completion. The thing his incompetence isn’t as damning as something disastrous as Collide or even The Assignment, but it brings to mind more lazy affairs like Resident Evil: paper-thin plots that have one or two good ideas that are disappointingly squandered on such a mess of a production. I’ll pay him the compliment that I was never bored, and I was genuinely intrigued to see where the movie was going. It’s just that once I arrived at our destination, did I realize I had wasted my friggin’ time getting invested in all manners of bit characters and plot details that looked like they were going to build to something meaningful, but end up getting quickly forgotten by the end credits.
The only saving grace this film has are the decent actors who were roped into this mess. I really appreciated Gugu Mbatha-Raw in her lead role, and I genuinely want to see her take a much better lead performance in the future. David Oyelowo and Daniel Brühl both turn in some solid acting, while Chris O’Dowd is on hand to add some much needed levity to the situation. For their acting alone, this movie avoids an overly negative rating…if only because I pity that they were in this movie to begin with.
Because as a standalone science-fiction horror flick, this movie is a disappointment. As an entry in the Cloverfield franchise? It’s practically unacceptable given how much of a heavy hand an experienced producer like J.J. Abrams likely had in post-production. I flip-flopped on giving this SOME OL’ BULLSHIT for two days, but I honestly can’t muster the hatred necessary to bomb it with such a low rating. That ending made me come close, but for decent acting and a genuine buildup of suspense is telling me to give this a very, very, very, VERY low…
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