By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
With a marketing and release strategy that is unprecedented, the film connected to all that inventive advertising hype isn’t deserving of all this effort, an unconvincing patchwork of ideas cobbled together from other, far superior movies.
Set in the near future, we are introduced to British married couple Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Michael (Roger Davies), during a tender moment which is supposed to demonstrate the close bond between this pair, but merely exists to conveniently lay down basic plot details, which is the Earth is about to run out of natural resources, an impending disaster which will see the planet fall into complete chaos.
A team has been put together, including Hamilton, to go into space on an elaborately designed ship called the Shepherd (which looks like it’s been designed by John Hurt’s character from Contact), containing a state-of-the-art device that, once fired, will create unlimited energy on their dying planet. With Russia, Germany, and China threatening to overtake other countries, time is of the essence.
When the crew, which also includes Kiel (David Oyelowo), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Monk (John Ortiz), Tam (Zhang Ziyi) and Volkov (Aksel Hennie), fire the device, something goes terribly wrong. The Earth disappears, the crew and the ship itself starts displaying alarming anomalies, while back home, Michael has to start avoiding attacks from an enemy that may not be from this universe. This baffled, increasingly frightened group have to find a way to correct this imbalance, before they are all consumed by this unstable, alternate reality.
The Cloverfield Paradox is inept from start to finish, and one can see why the producers have decided to dump the film direct to streaming services. It is poorly directed by Julius Onah (The Girl Is in Trouble), who appears to have no idea how to naturally build story, character, and anything resembling genuine suspense. His uninspired approach ensures the film has a decidedly direct-to-DVD (or late night TV) atmosphere, and has trouble keeping the various elements in focus.
The screenplay by Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street, Freaks of Nature, the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot) is hugely derivative, borrowing from several movies to little effect, and the material is so creaky (and filled with heavy-handed, overly expository dialogue), that you begin to wonder if it is all intended as some kind of parody. Uziel has been heavily influenced by Event Horizon and The Philadelphia Experiment, but there are definite nods to Alien, 2010, Hellboy, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.
Performances, at best, are utilitarian, with none of the talented cast able to rise above the second-rate material. With all the parallel realities the characters encounter, it would have been great if Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown was on board to exclaim ‘Great Scott!’ on a regular basis; it at least would have livened things up a little. Or even have Peter Weller’s Banzai make a surprise appearance to tell the baffled crew, ‘No matter where you go, there you are’.
John Carpenter wanted to make a standalone film each year under the Halloween banner decades ago, but it unfortunately came to an abrupt halt after Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). Producers J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves have resurrected the idea with the Cloverfield series, but seem to have quickly come to a creative dead-end (the second entry, 10 Cloverfield Lane, was unexpectedly good until its wrongheaded finale), so they have cleverly reformatted where its premiere viewing platform will be. This is a film that will be solely remembered for its audacious promotional campaign, another worrying sign that marketing is deemed more important in Hollywood than the actual quality of the movie itself. Even with all their gimmicks and showmanship, Roger Corman and William Castle still managed to churn out some really entertaining flicks.