The Cloverfield movies have become synonymous in the past decade with sci-fi blockbusters, unexpected advertising campaigns, and huge amounts of secrecy over their plots. The original, a 2008 found-footage monster movie on the streets of Manhattan, was followed eight years later with a spiritual sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, about three people in a bunker following a potential alien invasion.
The films are a Twilight Zone-style anthology, with a vague connective strand across different universes, and to everyone’s surprise, the long-awaited, often-delayed third film, once titled ‘God Particle’, was released to Netflix following the 2018 Super Bowl following viral adverts that generated intense speculation and buzz.
The film has already proved itself divisive but not without good reason – many fans will find the plot, involving an energy crisis on Earth threatening to spill into all-out war, and a particle accelerator that hopes to provide clean energy that sends a team of astronauts into a frightening reality, too high concept and unwieldy even for a JJ Abrams production. Complaints are somewhat valid – more time could be used in world-building and establishing our core group of scientists, giving them the chance to become more actualised people, rather than characters representing a global contingent of world-savers. Equally, the film falls guilty to third-act flab, although it does eschew all-out monster scares for the dark parts of human nature as the film’s Big Bad.
Fortunately the film anchors itself with a roster of solid performances, including Chris O’Dowd’s more comedic Mundy, David Oyelowo’s heroic captain Kiel, Chinese superstar Zhang Ziyi’s genius engineer Tam, and Elizabeth Debicki’s icier astronaut. The key to the whole film, however, is Gugu Mbatha-Raw and her spirited, soulful performance as Ava Hamilton, a broken woman trying to heal from the pain of a difficult past and forced into helping save the Earth from destruction. Mbatha-Raw has always been a solid and underused actress, and having her centre the film is a smart choice by the filmmakers, given that she brings pathos and humanity to what could be a more generic role.
The more technical aspects of the film are just as solid – director Julius Onah makes the film move and feel as slick as any other sci-fi blockbuster, and Bear McCreary’s score adds a touch of widescreen terror and intimacy to this endeavour. The space-bound sequences of terror are inventive, including one subplot that strays close to all-out space comedy, and the scenes on Earth involving Ava’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) evoke smaller-scale films such as the original Cloverfield.
In the grander scale of the Cloverfield movies, The Cloverfield Paradox is not a new height for the series, and it’s not hard to see why some might refer to it as the weakest of the films so far. However, it still manages to be a solid piece of entertaining sci-fi horror with some wholly original ideas, some engaging core performances from the cast, and an ending, no spoilers, well worthy of much discussion, which when it comes to a Cloverfield movie, is worth a watch in any reality.