Let me pitch a story idea to you real quick to see how it sounds. A group of scientists, all with various specialties, occupy a space station together while working on a particle accelerator. Their mission is to solve an energy crisis that is plaguing the Earth, but their experiments go awry one day and the Earth disappears. That sounds dope as hell, right? I think so too, but apparently J.J. Abrams doesn’t agree. Well, at least not entirely anyway, as ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ is the latest example of the director/producer-extraordinaire taking an interesting original pitch and later cramming it into his anthological ‘Cloverfield’ series. With a script by Oren Uziel from a story he wrote with Doug Jung, Julius Onah used this project to test the feature-film waters and had one hell of a cast to work with including Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz and Roger Davies. Did you catch all of those? No? Don’t worry, they’re all equally as important and play equally as un-compelling characters, but more on that later.
The original pitch I gave you at the top is somewhat intact in the final product here as the crew of the Cloverfield Station are working on the Shepard particle accelerator in hopes of creating a renewable energy source that the Earth desperately needs. Not all on Earth are for this project though as a brief cameo from Donal Logue suggests that the operation of this accelerator could have dire consequences, going so far as to claim that other dimensions could be torn open and monsters could rise from the sea. Conspiracy theorists be damned though, as the crew of the Cloverfield Station choose to fire up that ol’ accelerator with the best of intentions, and that’s when shit gets weird. The direct and indirect fallout from the accelerator being turned on leads to the best parts of ‘Paradox’ as physics and all of the laws it brings with it go right out the window as we see humans materialize out of nowhere and limbs disappear into walls. Unfortunately, these interesting sci-fi bits are barely explored and are noticeably trimmed, a symptom of the ‘Cloverfield’ universe that doesn’t end here.
The majority of the first two acts play out as something I would love to see run in its entirety, with a stellar cast who are given just enough to keep me interested even if they aren’t given enough to make me truly care for them. Real stakes back on Earth make the unique sci-fi elements going on in space all the more compelling until they aren’t, thanks to the decision to include this in the ‘Cloverfield’ franchise. The fact that the original vision of this film was neutered and manipulated into this schlocky fare, with enough references to the previous ‘Cloverfield’ films to make fanboys smile, but little else to keep general audiences invested is a damn shame. Casts this talented -and- diverse are seldom put together and are never put together with this kind of a budget, which is compounded by the fact that Julius Onah is a Nigerian-born director with few credits to his name. This kind of representation should be celebrated and normally would be, but the decision to fit this into a franchise with connections that were beyond tenuous already means that no one involved will receive the praise it deserves.
Scenes and entire storylines are given a half-hearted treatment before being abandoned in the third act of this flick which makes little since given its speedy 102 minute runtime. Even with the late decision to make this a ‘Cloverfield’ joint, there was plenty of room to let the original idea breathe comfortably with the later J.J. Abrams additions, but alas, that’s not the movie we got. The only real stories here are that a lot of talented people were in a big sci-fi movie with an unprecedented release stray after the Super Bowl, and that an interesting unique sci-fi idea was sloppily gutted by a producer trying to make “fetch” happen ten years too late. I say all of this as a huge fan of the original ‘Cloverfield’, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ and the ARGs that these flicks brought with them. Unfortunately, ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ wasn’t given enough space, time or TLC to make itself a successful installment in this franchise. Hopefully the immensely talented folks who tried their best are given ample opportunities in the future. Also, the final shot is almost infuriating. Almost…