The Cloverfield Paradox

This JJ Abrams production was (apparently) released on Netflix unexpectedly after an ad at the Super Bowl. This has caused some musing about release schedules and campaigns in the digital age, but is really just an expensive version of ‘straight to video.’ Sadly this may be the most innovative thing about it.

This third instalment in the Cloverfield series is by far the weakest. The first was a superior addition to the POV genre that was so beloved post Blair Witch. It was 10 Cloverfield Lane that was the really interesting movie though. This played with genres, and as well as being an intriguing film in its own right, it questioned the whole idea of the sequel, being tangential and largely unrelated to the first film.

Paradox is a more straightforward origin story. Energy is running out so a particle accelerator is being created in space (obviously). Early on a character says “we can’t go back in time & fix it” – uhoh. On the TV a critic is saying the experiments could rip a hole in the space time continuum and unleash monsters. Which rather gives away too much of the plot given that we know what happens. Their experiment sends them across space/time – earth is no longer there, but then a second earth is discovered. Some insufficiently weird stuff happens. Between this and the final scene, you get the sense the script simply said “Usual science rescue shit”. After a requisite number of rigs have been jettisoned & hatches blown, punctuated by an excess of exposition, they head home.

We get all the usual conventional space station tensions – like prisons, space stations are an environment which I will (presumably) never experience but feel really quite knowledgeable about. Last year I saw Life, which was almost completely derivative, but somehow still enjoyable (and strangely a better Alien movie than Alien Covenant). That film was a bit like Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl – it offered nothing original, but once you accepted that, was good fun. Paradox unfortunately runs all the cliches without any of the payoff. It doesn’t give us any of the space horror of, say, Event Horizon, or any of the mind-bending games of Primer, or Timecrimes.

Given the potential exhibited with 10 Cloverfield Lane, this is a real shame. What that hinted at was a new way to approach the sequel. Imagine if they had opened up, made the name and some monster footage openly licensed and then invited tenders for films set in the “Cloverfield universe”. That would have been innovative, instead of something that is only remembered for its association with Superbowl.

But it is worth applauding the diversity of casting in this – women and POC feature in nearly all central roles. Being a woman or POC is not central to the film, and in years past the default mode would be white men for nearly all these roles. In this it is a good model for how the gender or ethnicity of a character need not be specified, which opens up roles. The cast all carry the film well (although Chris O’Dowd’s character provides a jarring comic aspect, and the arm stuff just seems a residue of a previous version of the script). It is the script that lets them down.

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