One thing that can be said about the Cloverfield series is that, at the very least, they’re always marketed in a unique and intriguing way. The first film’s teaser famously didn’t even have a title, just a date: 1/18/08. The marketing was so memorable, in fact, that I didn’t just look that date up. I grabbed it right out of the ol’ noggin. It’s always just stuck in my brain because of the wonderful mystery that the marketing presented.“What is this film and what the hell is going to happen on 1/18/08?!”
It was a classic JJ Abrams puzzle box. It’s no surprise that JJ is now famous for posing mysterious questions. He’s perhaps even more famous for the unfulfilling answers or lack of answers that fan boys roast him over. The movie itself was actually fairly straight-forward: A group of unknowns trying to survive a disaster in NYC in what amounted to a found-footage version of a Godzilla movie. I, myself, actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, the characters were pretty dumb, but their actions rang true with their dumbness. It was also an original spin on the found footage movie.
Years after the buzz of the first movie and hopes for a sequel had all but died – suddenly, there it was again – out of nowhere, a trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane pops up just a month or so away from its opening date. The movie also looked drastically different – no found footage and it had a cast of talented well-known actors to boot. It was different, but in a very welcomed way. This time, we were treated to a tense, claustrophobic, character-driven thriller that ended in true over-the-top sci-fi fashion. Again, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued by the questions and connections.
Recently, news started trickling out about the impending release of two more Cloverfield films. News had even leaked that Paramount was looking to offload the Cloverfield franchise to Netflix for release in April. Imagine my surprise when, yet again, a mysterious trailer featuring mostly footage from the first Cloverfield movie started playing during the Super Bowl. This time promising us the answers we never got from the 2nd installment! Then, to cap it all off, it ended with the Netflix logo and an announcement that the film would be available to stream immediately after the game! I’m sure you can surmise the text conversations that happened between my friend-group and myself – ranging from exclamations of giddy delight to discussions of the excrement that just filled our formerly clean under-garments. JJ & Bad Robot did it again – this time they Beyoncé-ed all of us and just tossed a fully-finished movie on the table like it was nothing. Turns out, there may have been a reason Paramount wanted to get rid of this one. While not a complete disaster, The Cloverfield Paradox is a bit of a sci-fi mixed bag. Did we get some answers? Technically, yes – but really, we got more new questions than anything.
Now, since these movies rely largely on secret twists to maintain any sort of watch-ability (especially this one), I’m going to be light on details. Just know that it involves a group of Astronauts/Scientists that are sent on a heroic space mission to create a new form of never-ending energy via an ultra-powerful particle collider, as this version of the Earth is seemingly without solar panels. As you can assume, things go off the rails and people react as only Cloverfield characters can – with utter befuddlement and stupidity.
Direction and Cinematography-wise, The Cloverfield Paradox is actually a pretty well-made film. The set-design is superb and some of the twisty action/suspense scenes are genuinely interesting to watch. The problem comes when there’s nothing beyond the twists that are rifled off at a breakneck pace. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. I couldn’t tell you the name or background of most of the characters on the space station. Not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because their names and/or backgrounds were literally never spoken. The only character we get to focus on is our lead, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Black Mirror, Miss Sloane, Beauty and the Beast) – even then, the details aren’t very hard and fast…or original. Regardless, we do get to see her struggle with an interesting moral dilemma for about 15 minutes before it’s abandoned in favor of more stupid, selfless, and ultimately unearned heroism.
Another glaring flaw in this film is that it’s quite obviously forced into the Clover-verse after the fact. I’d read rumors that both 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox were made into Cloverfield movies after they were largely finished or far along in the filmmaking process – this very much confirms it, as the tie-in scenes feel literally dropped into a pre-existing film. At least 10 Cloverfield Lane had the good sense to save it all for the end. Paradox dips you in and out so many times that it becomes both deflating to the tension and a bit annoying to the viewer.
Again, it’s not all a loss. If you’re a fan of space-thrillers, Paradox is surely worth a once-over for the production value and twists alone. There’s also some great actors working their asses off here, despite the lack of characters they’re given. Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, & Zhang Ziyi all get their moments to shine, however brief they may be. We also see some interesting questions posed and genuinely original twists.
The problem with this film is that the twists are never properly utilized. There’s a good film in here somewhere – it just hasn’t fully formed yet. Obviously, this is why Paramount was so eager to offload. It was also likely impossible to market for a theatrical release without ruining the movie. Regardless, I’m sure this will do fantastically well for Netflix. The key for them, if they choose to continue down this road, is creating Cloverfield movies from the ground, up – ones that feel cohesive and actually give answers fans want. I’m sure the stunt marketing will give Netflix enough streams to continue on. Here’s hoping they find the right people to make it work…
The Cloverfield Paradox
Director: Julius Onah
Writers: Oren Uziel, Doug Jung
Stars: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, & Zhang Ziyi
CURRENT IMDB SCORE: 6.6/10
CURRENT ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 13%
MY OVERALL SCORE: 6/10