Two Studios, Two Universes, 3 Editors, 2 Movies, All in-One
‘The Cloverfield Paradox‘ is a confusing movie. It has enough clout in front and behind the camera to become something of an event, it is big enough to advertise during the Superbowl but pulls a move out of the Sega Saturn playbook and releases the same day of its first major showcase. Its success might be just as well short-lived.
The first title on FilmGamer’s Most Anticipated Film Releases of 2018 and referred to as God Particle as a working title, Project: Cloverfield 3 (among its many names) certainly sounds like a classic cool story on paper, coming from Star Trek Beyond writer Doug Jung. A group of international scientists working on a space station believe they’ve cracked the key to solving the future energy crisis if they can successfully run a gyro-like orb figure called “The Shepard” through Cloverfield Space Station. The plot details are kept rather vague as further explanation is confusing and tied to its marketing tactics, initial surprise is the best thing the movie has going for it. Of course our heroes don’t first succeed at first and then all of a sudden paradoxical phenomena are incurring chaos. This similar idea has been done several times before and better with Event Horizon, Interstellar, The Martian (with Aksel Hennie in a similar role), and most notably last year’s underrated Life, which accomplished a lot of the same things with greater written and directorial coherence.
“The only excuse an actor can give is I didn’t know what kind movie I was in.”
– Chris Pine [On Acting in Big Budget movies and working with J.J. Abrams], ‘Off Camera’ Interview, Also Available on Netflix
There are two major acting forces at play here and they clash come from two different movies. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (San Junipero – Black Mirror, and Fantastic Beasts among other things) is the lead here and does great character work in a film that really doesn’t need it. She is the connection to a needless plotline down on earth and it demonstrates her talent that despite so many throw away lines treated from the director, she manages to cobble together a complete character portrait, making her seem very capable despite severe plot missteps (in space movies scientists make snap decisions without any real thought or nuanced discussion, #timeismoney) and she is sympathetic. Oddly she doesn’t fit the audience surrogate role as that goes to Chris O’Dowd (Thor: The Dark World) as Irishman Comic Relief who is there among the rest of the G8 astronauts for some reason. David Oyelowo is miscast as the U.S. captain of the team (of course) and was either cut out among the trifecta of editors or given little to do like poor Zhang Ziyi or John Ortiz who is practically an afterthought as the space station doctor. Daniel Bruhl (Excellent in Rush and very competent in Captain America: Civil War) manages just enough character and plot work to fit in either sci-fi disaster drama or a B-grade basement thriller. The other surprise of the movie is Elizabeth Debicki whose minor casting coup literally disrupts the movie. I really didn’t care for her in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (then again, only Hugh Grant came out well in that movie) but sci-fi ‘ace’ cinematographer Dan Mindel manages to make one of the few memorable images out of her model face. Staring out into space and across the camera her looks are both haunted and frightening and I wish among the things trimmed were the sub-plot and her lines as she can communicate so much with only her looks. She reminds me very much of Rooney Mara but a bit more likable.
So the dilemma here is you have two dynamite lady performances; one maximalist in character centred-Gugu Mbatha-Raw and one minimalist in Liz Debicki, who are acting in two haphazardly assembled movies that clash while contending with the rapidly expanding and loosely connected Cloverfield brand. There’s only so much to be spread around. Much of this movie feels clumped together and it looks like it was edited to include the best parts of each kind of movie, and although at parts it feels out of place it does give you much bang for your Netflix buck. Producer J.J. Abrams is all about making cool hype products and this blockily fits right in. It’s definitely not as memorable as what came before, but at the very least I can say I was entertained.
Continuum Scale Rating: +0
-2 -1 0 +1 +2
Cost: $45 Million (could have been a bit cheaper but everybody wins here anyways because of a bold marketing stunt which challenges movie reaction metrics)
Producers: J.J. Abrams (mystery box man), Drew Goddard (The Martian Man), Matt Reeves (Apes together strong) The original Cloverfield 3
Music: Bear McCreary (The Walking Dead, Europa Report) who I confuse with DOP Seamus McGarvey did a very nice cover over the opening credits
Editors: Alan Baumgarten (American Hustle), Matt Evans (The Force Awakens), Rebecca Valente (Mission Impossible 5, Star Trek: Beyond) should get most of the money
It’s hard to make heads or tales of Cloverfield Space Station.