REVIEW: THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX Brings Its Franchise's Mysteries Into Space, But How Does It Stack Up?
The newest film in the Cloverfield anthology series hit Netflix mere hours after its official announcement, and it got the internet buzzing. How did it stand up to the hype? I'll let you know what I think!
Given that both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane were entirely different kinds of movies (the first being shot in first person, found-footage-style, and the second being a more traditional film), it was expected that THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX would also set itself apart from the other two. Almost immediately, its off-world setting does distinguish itself, but the sets and tone both feel familiar. Fans of Alien and Event Horizon will notice direct influence--so much so that Paradox often feels like last year's Life. That isn't necessarily a complaint, though, because the rather high-concept plot keeps it from feeling like a total rehash of other science fiction thrillers.
The story centers on a group of international astronauts aboard the Cloverfield Station as it orbits the Earth. The crew, led by Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is attempting to solve the world's energy crisis through the use of the Shepard, a particle accelerator that some people believe would have grave effects if successfully operated. It turns out, of course, that the critics are correct. The first use of the Shepard causes some mind-bending trickery to occur aboard the station, and that's about as much as I am going to say about it; the mysteries are what make the movie most interesting. Meanwhile, on Earth, something else sinister and foreboding is happening.
A lot of recent sci-fi flicks have been very action-based. That isn't to say that they are action films; rather, the character's actions drive the plot forward instead of the characters themselves pushing the story along. PARADOX is one of these kinds of movies. A lot of times, a character's reaction to a particular plot point doesn't make a whole lot of sense given the situation. If you stop to think about it, it tends to fall apart. This is the biggest flaw of the entire film. The actors chosen to play these characters are great and capable of much more than the script calls for. Unfortunately, the ensemble is widley under-utilized, and the film tends to be one scene after another like dominoes falling in a line; there's just not enough space to find time to care for them. That said, all of the actors' performances are good given the circumstance. It's a shame they aren't given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the ARG (or alternate reality game) that lead into THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. For the uninitiated, each of the Cloverfield movies have an online presence that helps to develop characters outside the confines of the film. Sometimes, as was the case with the original 2008 film, this is only done online. For 10 Cloverfield Lane, the ARG included actual, real-world items such as a cell phone left in Chicago by John Goodman's character, or a survival kit buried somewhere in Louisiana. Usually, these are ridiculously in-depth, and they create entirely new dimensions to the film. PARADOX had a short ARG, but it just did not seem to add much to the movie's context (provided that it ends with the film's Netflix release). Unfortunately, this one did not do much to build the world, and though that isn't exactly a problem with the film itself, it is related. It feels like a missed opportunity this time around.
Admittedly, it is tough to review this movie without getting into some spoiler territory. There are some intense sequences, one of which is among the most horrifying that I've seen in a sci-fi movie in a long time. However, in the interest of letting the film reveal itself to the audience, I won't get into the specifics. And, yes, there is something that relates it to the other Cloverfield movies. As for the promise that it explains everything, well... I won't go so far as to say that.
Overall, I think THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is the weakest entry in the franchise so far. That isn't to say that it's a bad movie; it just doesn't have a script as strong as 10 Cloverfield Lane or the unique presentation of the original Cloverfield. The characters could be developed much more, whether that was in the film or in its ARG, but fans of the series will certainly find things to like about this new entry.
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