In another dimension, there is a phenomenal alternate version of Julius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox. It’s a parallel universe in which a paired down iteration of Oren Uziel’s script grants its gift of a cast one concept to run with and they take it into hyperspace. Unfortunately, time and space have fractured and that film has collided with a dozen others to produce a more unwieldy monster.
The jury remains out on whether the sudden appearance of a third Cloverfield film on Netflix represents a project of game-changing PR or spectacular display of damage limitation. Of course, this is a quasi-franchise that never has played by conventional rules. From the sparse marketing of its films to the simple fact that the link between each remains bizarrely oblique. The Cloverfield Project isn’t so terrible that a cinema release would not have been justifiable – the sci-fi genre’s certainly seen worse – but is enough of a mess for its distributor (Paramount) to have anticipated a damning critical decapitation and subsequent box office bombing. What does seem clear is that far more people will wind up watching the film with this marketing tack than would ever have done on the big screen.
Guru Mbatha-Raw plays Ava Hamilton, an astro-scientist who, as the film opens, is torn between staying on Earth with husband Michael (Roger Davies) and doing a Gerrard Butler and jetting off into space to save the world. At stake is a planet Earth of our not so distant future, one in which a global energy crisis threatens to kickstart international wars on an unprecedented level. Sacrificing her home life, Hamilton joins the Cloverfield Station in the Earth’s orbit who are attempting to launch the ‘Shepard Particle Accelerator’, which – if it works – will provide free energy enough to solve Earth’s energy problems for good. Two years in and they’re running out of time.
On the Station are a politically correct cast of representatives from: America (David Oyelowo), China (Zhang Ziyi), Germany (Daniel Brühl), Russia (Aksel Hennie), Britain (Mbatha-Raw), and – weirdly – Ireland (a rather lost Chris O’Dowd). Fairly early on, two things become obvious: the first being that Uziel intends his characters as a half-hearted metaphor for the warring planet below, and the second that something isn’t quite working here. To the credit of the production, its effects are splendid. Brilliantly realised shots of space and the wonderfully scrappy-looking Cloverfield Station make for gorgeous interludes to the action, which itself boasts the odd jolt of visual creepiness. It is, however, jolts of a less welcome spirit that lets the side down.
Beyond many plotting issues, the key problem with The Cloverfield Paradox is that any jeopardy is permanently undermined by the fact that nothing in the film feels remotely believable. The cast might be excellent but they are working with vapidly-underwritten characters, devoid of emotional investment. Furthermore, the Station’s interior seems to be working within a logic completely different to its exterior and feels through and through like a soundstage. One neat touch, in which the crew’s 3D printer has been labelled: ‘worst bagel machine ever’, isn’t enough to overcome a sense that there is no way that any of these people have been living there for two years.
The script itself, meanwhile, is loaded so many genuinely intriguing ideas and promising strands that the resultant mess is left deeply frustrating. Channelled here are a variety of incongruous films – from Event Horizon to Alien to War of the Worlds and even The Addams Family – which build layers of confusion. It’s like watching an entire series of Black Mirror be compressed into one feature-length episode.
Links to J. J. Abrams’ weird Cloverfield franchise may propel Onah’s film into the attention of many but, paradoxically, seem to have ruined a much simpler and more effective conceit. If the third act hooks, the lame duck of a final shot leaves a bad taste.