If there’s one message that comes through loud and clear, over and over, through dystopian storytelling, especially those stories that come with a science-fiction bent, it’s that we venture into space at our peril.
Gone are the lofty aspirations of space exploration in the ’60s; they’ve been replaced by a foreboding sense that should we slip off the gravity-drenched bond of Earth living that we will find monsters lurking in the water or soil of Mars, on distant planets or on derelict spaceships, or in mysterious regions of space where malcontented entities live in existential horror.
The Cloverfield Paradox, which was once known as The God Particle (aka Higgs-Boson of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider), does nothing to dissuade us from the idea that heading off into the vast reaches of space or knowledge is bound to get us into a fair amount of trouble.
In this case, somewhere in the far reaches of the multiverse, that oft-posited and much-used in sci-fi storytelling idea that our Earth is but one of a multiplicity of adjoining realities, where everything is almost the same but differs in several key respects.
It’s a fascinating thesis, one that filmmakers love because it allows them to play with the idea of similar-but-not-the-same, a disorienting concept for people who don’t tend to take kindly to the fact that they may not be wholly unique, like mummy and daddy told them they were.
In the third instalment in the Cloverfield universe, following 2008’s Cloverfield and 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, a bold experiment to provide unlimited free energy for our planet which has frankly seen far better days goes, quite naturally awry, with the gallant crew of the Cloverfield Station, determined to save the people they love and eight billion or so other souls in peril, using the Shepard Particle Accelerator to tunnel through space and time to tap into this energy.
As you’d expect with an undertaking this visionary, and yes, more than a little bit desperate which keeps going wrong, there are a fair number of doomsayers predicting the end of reality as we know it, as great, gaping holes are ripped in the space/time continuum, unleashing chaos and monsters and hellish outcomes oh my!
Of course the good people of the Shepard are having none of this, although with success continuing to allude them, it’s a fair bet they must’ve thought once or twice of giving up, heading back home and sitting on a beach to await the end of all things.
But they don’t god bless them, not even our emotionally-resonant protagonist Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a standout in a cast who must ham it up more than act much of the time simply to keep up with a wacko script) who goes on the mission, grieving the loss of her two kids and missing her husband Michael (Roger Davies), a doctor who ends up with more than his fair share of monstrous problems back home.
Finally, after much furrowed-brow concentration from physicist Ernst Schmidt (Daniel Brühl) and his lover/colleague Tam (Zhang Ziyi), commander Kiel (David Oyelowo) and quips from Mundy (Chris O’Dowd, bringing The IT Crowd to space), not to mention passive/aggressive, okay mostly aggressive haranguing from Volkov (Aksel Hennie), everything works!
We’re saved! Limitless free energy is here! Light up the lights! Fire up the barbie! Drive that car somewhere far away! WE HAVE POWER …
Yeah, no you don’t … c’mon it’s the beginning of the film and success at this point simply presages horror, doom and hellish loss of life on a grand scale.
And so it is, with The Cloverfield Paradox embracing every trope known to sci-fi man with a giddy fervour that is giddily exhilarating with everything from Alien to Event Horizon to Sunshine and even Moon and Solaris getting a well-worn look-in.
Dripping with cheese – yes they even have this in space, vegans beware – and histrionics aplenty, the film has a merry old time showing us once again, in ways weird and quip-laden that tinkering with the natural law of things causes only grief and problems.
Leaving aside that idea, so beloved of conservatives everywhere, that it’s simply not the done thing since we’ve never done it that way before, The Cloverfield Paradox marches happily on, clutching its multitudinous tropes and influences closely to its much beleaguered side.
It is not, despite a stellar cast and a fine premise provided Oren Uziel, the greatest of films, not even the finest of films with a strong sense that J. J. Abrams attempt to shoehorn the movie into the Cloverfield universe is more awkward than elegant, but somehow in the midst of all the been-there-done-that-got-the-multidimensional-Tshirt silliness, it all kind of works.
Not very well mind you, and the ending is both ludicrously fairytale-ish and obviously linked further films in the franchise, but there’s a sense of glorious schlock-and-horror that makes it all rather fun to sit through.
Yes, you heard me right – a film devoted to the idea that we’re all screwed, and end up even more screwed when the tool of our salvation goes belly-up with very messy consequences, ends up being marvellously entertaining.
Much of that can be sheeted home to the fact that the actors involved play a cascading series of madcap events more seriously than they deserve – want Addams Family‘s Thing in space? You kinda got him; no, really, you do – and Mbatha-Raw delivers the goods, the emotional core of a film that is precious of much of substance but a great deal of hokey over-the-top horror.
The Cloverfield Paradox really shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does, just enough to reward you with what might happen if Pigs in Space met Alien and had a child with The IT Crowd.
Granted, it’s grounded in some very serious real-world issues, and these are, to some extent, covered although they are given short shrift in a script that doesn’t stop long enough to think about too much too deeply – Ava aside, of course, who provides all the humanity for the entire film, is the one solid anchor in this carnival of dystopian horrors – and it does offer up some cool effects and ideas on how the multiverse operates when two realities collide, but it’s mostly a riotous carry-on of nonsensical, blood-spattering fun.
Provided you approach the film with that in mind, you’ll have a fine old time watching humanity having anything but.