Oh Billy, this big tuna landed in our laps with virtually no warning. We are huge… HUGE… fans of the Cloverfield series so we were elated when this one just sort of happened. The Cloverfield Paradox, formerly known as The God Particle, is the third movie in the Cloverfield franchise and Julius Onah’s directorial debut (or at least his first major blockbuster). It’s a star studded cast, and Bad Robot’s entry into the Sci-Fi horror genre. Is it good? Does it fit into the Cloververse as a whole? Was there anyone on the writing staff who got above a D- in their elementary school science class? Read our spoiler filled review below to find out. Or listen to our podcast for the slightly more passionate arguments.
Reviewed by: Jake (featuring Mark in a special guest appearance)
The Cloverfield Paradox opens in moderately futuristic (we quickly learn it’s 2028) London, and there is an energy crisis. In a logical and scientifically sound move, the world’s most powerful countries have banded together to launch a particle accelerator called “Shepherd” into space to test out and attempt to secure infinite energy prior to harnessing the power back on Earth because science. Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) joins the crew after some deliberation, with her husband Michael (Roger Davies) giving her his full support before promptly fading into relative meaninglessness for the rest of the film. Call him “Chekhov's jammed tie-in to the Cloververse” guy.
The crew tries to successfully fire the particle accelerator for a couple years before finally having any luck. The only problem is that when they do finally get that big ol’ machine to sing for them, they also seem to have mysteriously misplaced the entire fucking planet Earth. Fears happen. Fears that they blew up the Earth, fears that they ripped spacetime into a jelly and are just sort of floating around in the primordial soup of the universe, and fears about some surly blonde who just sort of appears in their wiring like a very injured, partially bionic stowaway.
Bad things happen on the ship. Unspeakable things. The dickhead Russian guy (Aksel Hennie) goes first because tropes and he gets it pretty bad… He is filled to the brim with worms (you read that right) and the ship’s gyroscope somehow teleports into his gullet. One can only assume it was a combination of these two elements that drove him to go berserk and threaten the crew with a newfound, 3D printed gun before vomiting worms to death. Things only manage to get weirder from there as the Irish comedic relief has his arm severed clean off by a sentient wall, only to have it crawl back and demand a pen from the crew so it can write about where the gyroscope is located (Russian’s stomach, remember?). The Chinese woman (Zhang Ziyi) is frozen to death, the Irish guy (Chris O'Dowd) is attacked by magnetism, and the American captain (David Oyelowo) sacrifices himself to detach a damaged part of the ship.
This batshit is all without even mentioning that, through the weird happenings and conversations with the newfound crewmember, we discover the particle accelerator tore a hole in spacetime and some people/objects came through the rift. It’s here that the tie-in to the original cloverfield comes into play because remember Earth? Well in the movie’s original universe, the Cloverfield monsters came to proverbial town in 2028. It can then be surmised that the 2006 Cloverfield was set into motion by the same event lobbing a monster down to New York in that universe. Then of course there’s the 2016 universe of 10 Cloverfield Lane, where aliens happened. Cloverfield is now officially a multiverse anthology with this being the first in the sure to be messy timeline that will spawn more films.
Anyway, not much else of any import happens in this one. Ava warns herself in another universe of making a mistake that caused the deaths of her children in this universe before launching homeward in an escape pod. There’s a jumpscare moment at the end of the film involving a Cloverfield monster that is apparently the size of a literal 8,000 meter peak… Fin.
What the Movie Does Right
The Cloverfield franchise has always been exceptional in its Altered Reality Game approach to the marketing of its films. It feels a little weird to talk about things only tangentially related to the movie itself, but I think it’s important because the Cloverfield films are most enjoyed when digging for some buried treasure. This is no different in that regard. There are characters related to and from 10 Cloverfield Lane, twitter handles, and of course the JJ Abrams specials including the “Tagruato”, “Slusho”, and “Kelvin” brands. All of these are surefire fan pleasers, and while mileage may vary for some of the uninitiated, it’s easy to get in on the fun once you’re able to learn a little about it. Perhaps the most impressive is a Dark Side-of-the-Moon-esque time syncing wonder that aligns the beginning of the attack in the original Cloverfield to the exact moment when the Shepherd worked, ripping spacetime a new one. Pretty cool, and will certainly be leaned on as a key piece of the multiverse approach we’re now in for with this franchise. Link
To get into the meat of the movie itself, this film is shot very well. Most of the scenes are well orchestrated on interesting and detailed sets, and they get the most of the extremely charming set of characters who are played by a really solid cast. It just looks pretty and is easy to get into because of what’s happening on screen. Overall, I think this was a strong showing from the relatively new Nigerian director Julius Onah.
Finally, I don’t know if this will be a popular opinion, and it will be discussed in the next section as well, but I like the general idea of a multiverse as hosting an anthology-based horror series. The possibilities are endless…
What the Movie Does Wrong
Ok, let’s dive in where we left off in the above section. For a movie making a choice to go in the direction it did, why in the fuck did it need to be so insultingly shitty and on-the-nose with its last scene? Fan service is one thing, but was anyone really clamoring for a 35,000 foot tall Cloverfield monster? Think about what the proportions of that fucker would be.
Having the ability to go in an infinite number of directions must be nice, and it was wasted on this shit. Don’t do that, movie. Fuck you. Then there’s the science, and ho-boy. Let’s bring in a real scientist to talk more, shall we?
Thanks, Jake, and welcome readers to the A-Z Horror Science Corner. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?
How the hell did this thing pass any level of quality control review? This movie has the most insultingly bad science writing I have ever seen. I legitimately think the Jack Frost writers probably knew better what they were doing than the crew working on this film. If I go on a full rant about every single thing that bothered me we’ll be here for multiple pages, so instead here is a non-exhaustive bulleted list of the worst offenders:
In this world where all of humankind teeters on the brink of the largest humanitarian crisis ever, we create and launch a particle accelerator into space as a proof of concept. Why? Because apparently particles are easier to collide in space. How are we then going to get the energy generated by this system back to Earth? Something something point to point energy transmission. Something something purple space dust.
Additionally, on this savior-station we put six people on board and expect them to solve this problem themselves. Apparently we can wirelessly transmit energy, but not any Earth-based communication from our horde of terrarian scientists. Maybe if we had included more than two engineers in this they could’ve included venting parameters as part of the experimental design.
Furthermore, what were the qualifications that these folks had to be elected to save the planet? Their communications officer made an incendiary device out of a nightlight and accidentally burnt her kids to death so I’m a little unclear on what else she has on her resume that makes her qualified. People who “accidentally make firebombs” are not generally allowed to go into outer space.
Why are there worms onboard this particle accelerator?
When Tam (Zhang) dies, she is trapped in an airlock that fills with water until the internal pressure is sufficient to blow the door off and instantaneously freeze all of the water, encasing her in ice and presumably crushing her. Every single thing about this scene is wrong. The water is shown to be passively venting into the lock, so why does it get filled to such pressure that it is able to blow the door off of the station? The water wouldn’t instantaneously freeze, it would boil then the vapor would freeze. Think of what a comet tail looks like or what it looks like when you throw boiling water in the air during the Minnesota winter. The most insulting thing about this is that her actual death in that situation would’ve been even more devastating. She would drown in the water bubble floating around outside the station, clearly visible to any of the crew, until all of the water finally boiled away leaving her a frozen space ballerina.
If you really wanted to tie this thing into the Cloververse wouldn’t it make more sense to teleport Clover eggs into Volkov instead of the worms?
Mundy’s (O’Dowd) death is equally asinine wherein he is trapped and strangled by magnetic putty within a selective magnetic field. Although the magnetic field is clearly the driving force for the scene the putty becomes sentient for some reason and actively works both with and against the system. It actually seems like there must’ve been a subplot that the station itself was supposed to be possessed by a malevolent force that was cut in order to tie it into the Cloververse. That would actually explain a lot of this stuff, but if you cut the subplot without any re-writing then you should be subject to all of the associated criticism.
At the end of the movie Monk is shot once in the abdomen and Schmidt is shot twice in the chest. Schmidt survives because of magical science but they unceremoniously kill off Monk without a second thought. The fuck?
Gravity makes absolutely no sense throughout the film. They seem to do some hand wavey “the space station is spinning ergo gravity” type of maneuver, but if you pay attention at all then you’ll notice that they continue to have gravity even when they’re not in the spinny bits. The whole bit leading up to Kiel (Oyelowo) dying is a great example of the writing team forgetting that this story isn’t taking place on Earth’s surface.
Not really science, but what’s up with the languages in this movie? Tam can only understand English, but not speak it? The German guy yells in English when he gets angry? Everyone else speaks Chinese but reverts to English the rest of the time?
These are the items that were far and away the most maddening, but they were not the only things. Why was Mundy’s arm yanked around inside the wall? How did Volkov not immediately die of acute space-worm poisoning? How do you 3D print bullets? Why would the foosball players change colors? We don’t have time to go into any further details here so I’ll just leave it at that, assume you understand the depth to which this script was lazily written, and hand it back to Jake to finish up.
Thanks, Mark. Ratings.
Story: 4 - Mark and I differed pretty significantly in this category, so take this with a grain of salt. The highest-level idea behind this is a good one, yes, but even a basic summary of the plot is pretty difficult to execute because it’s fucking batshit crazy and kind of a mess.
World-Building / Immersion: 7 - Again, Mark and I differed here. Despite having perfectly defined categories, thi happens pretty frequently. I find the world(s) of this spaceship to be interesting and my attention was easily held. A lot of this is also due to what I mentioned earlier about Cloverfield’s approach to its universe as a sort of easter egg hunt. The ARG element combined with a trip to space had me locked in despite some baffling science.
Scare-Factor: 3 - This movie was far more action than horror and far more funny than scary. Even the moments where the creep factor was most palpable were cut short by one-liners from O’Dowd.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - As I mentioned earlier, the set design, sound design and general effects in this movie were all quite good. There are definitely a few instances where things just look odd from a visual effects standpoint, but I found there to be a lot more good here than bad.
Overall: 6.5 - This movie was far too messy to be ranked higher and I totally understand some of the less-than-stellar reviews it is getting but it is well acted and interesting despite numerous flaws, and it opens up a door for the franchise to try some interesting stuff. Let’s hope the next offering is a little more sensical, though.