The 400-Word Review: The Cloverfield Paradox
By Sean Collier
February 5, 2018
Since its found-footage inception, the “Cloverfield” series has revelled in mysteries. The original film offered a trail of viral-marketing hints explaining the circumstances beyond its straightforward, kaiju-escape plot; 10 Cloverfield Lane, the vaguely connected sequel, opted instead for a mysterious confinement-terror tale of suspense.
The series’ third film, The Cloverfield Paradox, at last answers some questions — while simultaneously calling off all the rules, opening up the possibility of infinite tales within a shared universe.
It’s a neat trick. It might also demolish the stakes of any particular story this series has to tell, but only if you think about it. (Don’t think about it.)
It’s difficult to get into the meta-narrative without spoiling too much (and, since I’m writing this review about two hours after the film suddenly appeared on Netflix, I’m hesitant to give anything away). The Cloverfield Paradox is set in the near-future, where a dearth of resources has sent the Earth into an unending energy crisis; a team of scientists develops a way to harvest energy from a particle accelerator.
Because messing with physics is a tricky business, the crew — played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Ziyi Zhang, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz and Aksel Hennie — tests the device in space. After two years, they finally manage to get the device working.
Except now they can’t seem to locate the Earth. And a mysterious woman (Elizabeth Debicki) has materialized, quite painfully, on the ship. And the fabric of reality is looking a bit loose.
A dozen sci-fi set pieces and a hundred ideas follow; some are explored, some are explained, others are not. The middle act of The Cloverfield Paradox is great, nail-biting horror; as the crew grapples with their circumstances, the tension inches close to that of Alien.
The film can’t cross the finish line, owing to a repeated series of non-sequiturs and twists, most falling somewhere between unmotivated and utterly illogical. Fortunately, the cast is fantastic — Mbatha-Raw, the nominal lead, carries the film effortlessly — and the action is sufficiently captivating to maintain interest and attention.
This series is to be commended for offering three very different films, each a mild success. While none have achieved greatness, there is easy competence to these films that suggests the Bad Robot crew could keep churning them out forever. And The Cloverfield Paradox strongly implies that is precisely what they have in mind.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark