Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) - Movie Review


https://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.com/A lot of things have come to define the Cloverfield franchise: Ingeniously vague marketing, a tenuous connection to each other and including individual films that stand out so strongly on their own that it’s enough to make said tenuous connections feel like a total non-issue. It’s a loose-knit anthology series that, even with only two prior entries under its belt, has helped cemented producer J.J. Abrams as a cinematic figurehead. And then this film happened. Well, that winning streak had to break eventually.

But before getting into the pretty deep-set problems flooding this production, let’s try and get into what it does right, starting with the casting. Not only are the actors themselves quite good, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw who absolutely nails the "You can go home again, but do you really want to?" themes at the core of the story, but the decision to go for yet another international cast for a space station thriller actually has agency within the plot.

Set in the near-future during a humanity-threatening energy crisis, they help sell the idea that this is something so potentially disastrous that nations have to work together to try and overcome it. Through the smaller looks and echoes we get of the Earth below, it helps make the purpose behind their presence on the station incredibly vital.

From there, the film’s approach to multiverse theory leads to what is actually a pretty fresh idea: Colliding parallel universes as psychological mindscrew. Once the Shepherd particle accelerator aboard the station gets utilised, we are presented with a fractured reality where various timelines have collided into each other, each with varying backgrounds for the crew on-board. It creates the possibility for pretty tense sequences, where that fracture means that the crew can’t be sure of which version of their supposed ally they’re talking to, as some are revealed to be saboteurs in alternate timelines.

However, while this premise opens the door for a lot of intense shit to be happening, it also results in the film’s downfall as it is the source for this film’s biggest problems. For a start, this follows the ‘crew isolated in space’ structure pretty rigidly, right down to the crew getting picked off one-by-one. What results from that consistently-dwindling number of characters is that it ends up reducing the number of anchors to what we’ll call ‘Earth Prime’, the main reality that the story originates in. After a while, the possibilities for shuffled narrative become too shuffled, resulting in a lot of moments that work to an extent on their own, but end up feeling messy when brought together. It’s a jumble of ideas that never quite comes together correctly, and because of the main conceit, it’s almost as if they intended for that to be the case right from the start.

But even that doesn’t measure up to what is easily the biggest misstep of this entire feature: The attempt to tie this into the other Cloverfield films, making it into a more cohesive franchise. We get brief glimpses and Easter eggs from what came before, like the monster from the original and even a bunker that looks suspiciously like the one from 10 Cloverfield Lane, and in a film all about alternate timelines crashing into each other, the sudden appearance of space aliens and giant statue-decapitating monsters makes sense.

However, what that boils down to is that, because literally anything can happen as a result of the titular Paradox, it just justifies what has already happened. “It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it” would have worked just as well as the thread tying it all together, and it feels like a serious cop-out as a result.

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