Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) Review - The Clod Particle

Lately I've been picturing J.J. Abrams as some kind of harassed mother, parading around Cloverfield (2008) and begging: "Please like my son." And when people rightfully point out that his son is a fairly average movie, Abrams gets overly defensive and hires John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead for his son to hang out with in a bunker. Now Abrams is crafting this complex multi-dimensional saga about how special his son is, when in reality he's actually a massive bellend.

Cloverfield was a film you either loved or hated. It was a found-footage movie which featured a huge kaiju-like monster, but revolved around the same yuppie bullshit most horror movies revolve around. And whilst it certainly didn't set any worlds alight, it did attract a cult fanbase. I wouldn't have minded a proper sequel which focused on the monster, but I wasn't going to lose sleep over it. Well, ten years later and Abrams has finally returned to the story of the monster; by which I mean he's buried it under a load of dullards doing irrelevant shit.

The Cloverfield Paradox is the third film in the Cloverfield series, and the first to forego a theatrical release to be released directly on Netflix. A phrase that's up there with "the parasites have laid eggs in your brain", for setting off alarm bells. Forget bold new release strategy: straight-to-Netflix is this generation's straight-to-video. And you guys don't even get rad cover art as compensation either.

In the year 2028, mankind is facing global catastrophe due to an energy crisis. Tensions are rising between the planet's superpowers, rolling blackouts are commonplace, and a general sense of despair has set in. The governments of the world commission a project to create a powerful source of clean energy, which involves a space station and a massive particle collider. Quite why they had to resort to such extremes instead of, say, switching to renewable energy in a timely matter, is left unanswered - other than the usual human stupidity.

Since the government will do anything for Earth (but they won't do that), it falls to this diverse crew of scientists to save the day. And I'm not kidding when I say they're diverse. You've got everything from the humourless German (Daniel Brühl), to nationalistic Russian (Aksel Hennie), to the studious Chinese (Zhang Ziyi). And there's also Chris O'Dowd, performing admirably as the comedy Irish sidekick. There are more stereotypes in play here than in a Seventies British comedy. But don't worry about remembering them all: only Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki) get any real development - and only one of them is technically even part of the crew.

Unfortunately, the collider experiment, which is described as 'humanity's last hope', also has a chance of unleashing extra-dimensional nasties and demons across the time-space continuum. I guess it rolled a 1 during its unintended consequences check. This is outlined to us in a five-second cameo appearance from Donal Logue, as conspiracy theorist who spouts his crazy views on the news with no supporting evidence from the movie. He's correct in the end, so his appearance can technically be classed as foreshadowing. But if it's foreshadowing, then it's foreshadowing in the same way that brushing your teeth can be considered foreplay.

Most of the movie actually has very little to do with space-monsters so they had to get that in somewhere. The collider experiement producing these monsters is the Cloverfield Paradox, by the way. And without that one piece of exposition, the movie and its left field ending would have made no sense. Christ, the main villain in this movie should be the fucking rewrite itself. Paradox started out as another project entirely (God Particle), you see, before having the Cloverfield brand forced on it like a cock in an Hair Metal band's dressing room.

You only have to look at how awkwardly the A and B plot mesh together to see how poor a job the writers have done of rewriting. The A plot is set entirely on the Cloverfield Station and revolves around the unintended consequences of the experimental Sheppard particle accelerator. Not space-monster related consequences, but Event Horizon by way of Black Mirror style consequences.

Admittedly, this is the best part of The Cloverfield Paradox. When the collider throws the multiverse out of sync and realities collide, it leads to some cool sequences - such as Jensen materialising from another universe and into the walls of the station...wires and all becoming part of her body. None of these events are adequately explained beyond the meta-physics hand-wave explanation of realities colliding. I was promised monsters, conspiracy guy: not menacing shots of a Foosball table possessed by rogue physics. But switch your brain off, and the A plot of Paradox is perfectly serviceable.

The B plot, however, is an absolute snooze-fest. It revolves around Ava's husband Michael (Roger Davies) back on Earth. He gets what I call the Sean Bean storyline. No, he doesn't die. But he does spend the entire film doing something entirely irrelevant to the A plot. And it doesn't even lead anywhere! Just like Sean Bean's character in the Silent Hill movie. Michael's story sees him witness the worsening situation on Earth, spy what is possibly the baby Cloverfield monster, save a little girl, and hide in a bunker doing sod all. The only purpose the B-story serves is to justify this film as a Cloverfield film and to set up the ending. It's like a pointless government project, designed to use up excess funds.

Strip away the Cloverfield stuff and I'm still not sure Paradox would be anything other than an average, yet watchable, movie. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane which was a good movie in its own right. Paradox doesn't do anything prior movies set on space stations haven't done better. The crew go through the predictable motions of conflict, stupid decisions, and dying one by one, until the only competent individuals left pull together and attempt to salvage the mission. In typical fashion, this is easily resolved by the team of scientists and engineers, but still requires the American captain (David Oyelowo) to sacrifice himself. Scientific installations in films obviously being designed by ritualistic cultists.

The tone of Paradox is wildly inconsistent at best, and outright Tinder date level of schizophrenic at worst. On the one hand you have the whole Jensen melding with the walls thing, and Volkov vomiting disgusting masses of worms out of every orifice - both of which are almost Cronenbergian levels of body horror. But on the other hand, you have Chris O'Dowd losing his arm to a void in a wall and then cracking jokes about it. There's even a bit of slapstick involving the arm. It's as though it started out as a PSA about the dangers of cot death, before descending into a stand-up routine of dead baby jokes.

This is to say nothing of the inconsistency in visual design. Director Julius Onah excels at making use of the cramped space of the station that's lousy with machinery and bleepy-bloop lights. But some of the CGI is absolutely terrible for a 2018 movie, and the Earth scenes are as low-rent as anything the BBC puts out. The Cloverfield Station set does look the business though - including one particularly impressive external shot which shows the station as a crazy collection of oscillating parts. A suspiciously elaborate design for an Earth on its knees and desperate for a solution to its impending extinction.

The flaws in this film's logic are so cavernous they could deep throat King Kong. Why is there no renewable energy? What the fuck were the scientists doing for nearly two years if they're only now trying basic tasks like ventilation during testing? How can we buy into the energy crisis when one part in the movie shows Michael sat at his PC with two lamps on, during the fucking day? How does Mundy's arm know stuff Mundy doesn't? Do the writers even understand how physics work, beyond watching Gravity and Interstellar? And these are just a few off the top of my head.

So I'd say that even without the confusing Cloverfield elements, Paradox is far from perfect. But it's kept afloat by a stellar international cast and few excellent set pieces. It's the Cloverfield stuff that weighs this bitch down. Paradox portends to show a future which 'unleashes every thing'. I admire Abrams' attempt to anthologise the series - Halloween 3 attempted to do this to the Halloween franchise and is my favourite - but it's just bogging the films down with unnecessary details. If he wants an anthology series, the films should be disconnected. Cool ending of this film notwithstanding.

Hands up if you watch these films for boring young New Yorkers having boring parties, or scientists arguing on a space station, or women trapped in bunkers by crazy bastards. Now hands up if you're here to watch giant monsters wreck the shit out of major cities; as though the monster is an aspiring author and the city has just described his novel as trite and his writing inane.

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