So after watching my New England Patriots endure a tough loss at Super Bowl LII a few nights ago, I was overcome with joy at the brilliant marketing move from Netflix dropping the first trailer for the third film in the Cloverfield series AND announcing that it is also already available on Netflix to watch! Cloverfield is a series known for its clever marketing and had I been judging this movie based on that unprecedented move, I would have been proclaiming The Cloverfield Paradox, a masterpiece.
The Cloverfield Paradox takes place in the year 2028. An energy crisis runs rampant throughout the planet Earth. A team of scientists aboard a space station works on a piece of technology that promises to solve the crisis and hopefully stop an impending great war between different nations. After firing the machine up the space station is sent to an unknown part of space. The crew finds a person on board the ship that wasn’t supposed to be there and they have no idea how she got there. They learn that they have been sent to another dimension and have to find a way to get back home. Meanwhile back on their Earth, they are under attack from a giant beast.
Unfortunately, once you get past the marketing there is still a movie to watch, The Cloverfield Paradox is a massively disappointing film. The only way to truly review this film is to talk about the movie in great spoiler depth because the frustrations and problems with the movie really arise deep within the film’s story. Cloverfield Paradox not only doesn’t work as a standalone Sci-Fi film, but it is also a completely botched and contrived attempt to tie-in with the other Cloverfield films.
The original Cloverfield is one of the few handful “found footage” style of movies that I really enjoy (the others being Chronicle and the original Paranormal Activity). Future Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves managed to craft a monster movie that was thrilling and left just enough open-ended for the internet to start crafting their theories. The surprising sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, took the series away from the found footage format and was turned into a tight, paranoia suspense thriller that held back it’s Sci-Fi elements to the very end. What became clear with the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane the series was shifting into in almost anthology, Twilight-Zone style franchise because 10 Cloverfield Lane had almost nothing to do with the original Cloverfield.
Cloverfield Paradox does away with that aspiration and attempts to answer the question, how did all these events start? What became clear to me over the course of this movie was Cloverfield Paradox did not start off with the intention of answering that question.
The plot has a husband and wife separated. The wife, named Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is dealing with the loss of her children and is on the space station. Meanwhile, the husband, Michael (Roger Davies), is stuck on Earth as monster’s attack. He comes across a little girl and hides out with her in a shelter. This husband’s plotline could be lifted out of the movie and all that would be missing would be the original Cloverfield tie-in. Nothing about the movie would change. Michael is not a character, he is a plot device (and a poor plot device).
Cloverfield Paradox feels like a forced and vague explanation of a universe that needs it. Cloverfield Paradox is full of inconsistencies and uses the convenience of the explanation that there are different dimensions as an excuse to explain away all the problems. How so? Anything that doesn’t completely line up with the original movie (or 10 Cloverfield Lane) can be explained with, “maybe it’s a different dimension?” For instance, this movie is trying to tie in with the original but the dates don’t match (this takes place in 2028 and the original is 2008) and the political situation of the world is different. The ending shows the Cloverfield monster but it is way too big to be the same one. In the original movie, there was a satellite that fell the satellite into the sea. This is an event is what triggers the events in Cloverfield. But, in Cloverfield Paradox that never happens, (at least not until the end) but the monsters are already there. BUT MAYBE IT’S A DIFFERENT DIMENSION?! How does 10 Cloverfield Lane tie-in? You guessed it, just a different dimension.
The bigger and more proper question to ask is why was this explanation movie needed? 10 Cloverfield Lane may have let some fans down by not being a tie into the original film, but I think because the movie was so well done most of us were reserved to the idea that this was going to be an anthology Sci-Fi series (with maybe only small Easter eggs to connect the whole series together). The Cloverfield Paradox could have simply just been another standalone movie taking place on a space station.
The trouble with Cloverfield Paradox, unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, the movie really doesn’t work as a standalone movie. As a standalone film, Cloverfield Paradox feels like a discount version of other Sci-Fi movies like Event Horizon (which was already a discount version of Alien). The movie never really illustrates isolation and dangers of deep space well, making the central conflict less scary. The movie also jumps between several different tones very abruptly and can’t seem to find a consistent tone (there is, however, a hilariously dumb scene involving an arm that was chopped off).
The movie’s characters aren’t well developed either. Hamilton has the most interesting dilemma in the movie but the movie cheats by allowing her to solve all her problems. The rest of the characters are sort of just there because the plot requires them to be there. Despite the fact that this movie is filled to the brim with great talented actors like David Oyelowo and Daniel Bruhl, the conflict between many of the characters doesn’t feel organic despite the political climate the movie initially sets up.
On the more positive side, there are a lot of good hooks and setups. This movie is good at setting up a mystery. The payoffs aren’t worth it but the script by Oren Uziel does get the J.J. Abrams “mystery box” intrigue moving. The production design is slick and the visual effects are very good especially given this isn’t a massive big budget blockbuster.
This gives no me amount of pleasure to write this negative review, I wanted to love this movie. The original Cloverfield remains arguably the best-found footage film ever made, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a fantastic thriller that opened the franchise to its anthology possibilities. Cloverfield Paradox feels like a force and unnatural third film that tries to give explanations to a universe that didn’t really need it. While I was hoping that Cloverfield Paradox might relieve me of the disappointing feeling of a Superbowl loss. Instead, I found this movie more disappointing than the Patriots losing the Superbowl.