The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) Review
A GENERIC PARADOX UNTO ITSELF
Back in 2008, Cloverfield, a movie that was made for $25 million, made box-off success with a worldwide total of roughly $170 million (profiting almost 7 times its production budget). The movie itself centered around a group of young adults who were caught up in survival as a giant monster attacks and rampages through New York City. Produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by Matt Reeves (the director behind Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Cloverfield was uniquely shot as a “found footage” feature (something different for the genre and played up as a strength for the movie’s limited budget) as well as its marketing secrecy of keeping the film “under wraps” until its release, which also played to movie’s success. Eight years later, the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane, a somewhat spiritual sequel to Cloverfield, was released. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and produced by J.J. Abrams again, 10 Cloverfield Lane told a very different story to the original 2008, spinning a tale about young women who tries to escape from a fortified underground bunker belonging to an unstable / paranoid man. In truth, 10 Cloverfield Lane was fantastic film, with critics and moviegoers (myself included) quite taken with this next entry in the “Cloverfield” franchise, praising the cast, which was main only three, and the film’s setting for its narrative to tell a very psychology and gripping survival drama. It was very much different from what the first film was, but 10 Cloverfield Lane succeed and surpassed what the first movie was able to achieve, profiting $110 million at the box office against its $15 million production budget. Now, in a surprising move, Netflix (along with Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot Production) and director Julius Onah present the third installment in the Cloverfield saga with The Cloverfield Paradox. Does the third entry in the series find its place among this franchise or is all “gimmick” and Cloverfield meat?
Set in the near future (the year 2028) and the Earth is facing a worldwide energy crisis that threatens to plunge the planet into global chaos. With tensions rising between warring nations, the world’s only hope lies with the Cloverfield Station, an international space station equipped with an experimental machine capable of producing limitless amount of energy, known as the “Shepard particle accelerator”. However, it’s also been theorized that this untested accelerator could also be capable of destabilizing the very fabric of reality known as the “Cloverfield Paradox”, which could disrupt the space / time continuum and bring catastrophic effects and unknown entities into existence. After weeks turns into months and then into years of attempting to get the Shepard particle accelerator to work, the Cloverfield Station crew, which consists of crew members Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Monk Acosta (John Ortiz), Kiel (David Oyelowo), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Volkov (Aksel Hennie), and Tam (Zhang Ziyi), is beyond excited when they finally succeed…only for the accelerator to immediately malfunction and send the station and crew into panic and danger. Once the station is back up and running, the crew is shocked to discover that the Earth has vanished and they have no idea where they are, with the station’s gyroscope now gone as well. With their attempts to find a reason for what caused this situation, more and more bizarre things start to happen aboard the station, finding the Cloverfield crew come to realize that they must find what happened, fix it, and return home before it’s too late.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I have to say that I (like many out there) are intrigued by these Cloverfield movies. The first film (i.e. Cloverfield) was an interesting take on the whole “giant monster attacking a city” angle by filming it as a “found footage” piece and placing more of an emphasis on young adults trying to escape the attack rather than on the monster itself (a viewer only gets glimpse of the monster here and there and is only fully revealed towards the film’s ending). Still, it was an intriguing filmmaking move, which made Cloverfield noteworthy and resonate with some critics and moviegoers out there. The second film in this franchise (i.e. 10 Cloverfield Lane) was its own beast (literally) by painting a very different picture, trading the giant monster aspect for a more small and psychological horror of having characters placed within the confines of a secure bunker, playing the mayhem and paranoia nuances for mystery and narrative purposes. Personally, of the two, I liked 10 Cloverfield Lane better as it was more sophisticated and was surprise feature film that I was completely engrossed in from start to finish. It was even my #3 pick for my top ten movies of 2016.
With all that being said, this brings it back to talk about my current review for The Cloverfield Paradox, the third feature film in this cinematic franchise. For those who didn’t know, this film, which was originally to be called “God Particle” before being rebranded as a Cloverfield film (similar to what happened with 10 Cloverfield Lane original story that was titled “The Cellar”), was original to be theatrically released much like the previous two movies. However, after several delays, rumors began to surface that Netflix was circling around the idea of having the third Cloverfield film to be released on their online streaming service and not have a “theatrical release”. And then…. literally out of nowhere…. a TV trailer spot commercial for now titled film The Cloverfield Paradox appeared during Super Bowl LII, which ended with stating that the movie was going to be on Netflix after the game. Of course, while Philadelphia Eagle fans rejoiced over their win against the New England Patriots, I was definitely curious and intrigued to see The Cloverfield Paradox. So, I flipped on Netflix and watched the movie. What did I think of it? Well, while the film is approachable and totes a recognizable cast, The Cloverfield Paradox is a messy film that can’t find its own cinematic gravitas and powerful storytelling that the previous two films were able to achieve. It’s easy to digest and an approachable film, but the film’s overall execution fails and makes it a disjointed entry within this shared “Cloverfield” universe.
The Cloverfield Paradox is directed by Julius Onah, whose previous directorial work includes several short films like Don’t Look Back and Linus as well as the film The Girl is in Trouble. As a director, Onah handles himself well, crafting his most ambiguous film to date and driving the movie’s story for a viewer’s experience. Given that the fact that the film was originally suppose to be a non-Cloverfield film, the movie’s screenplay, which was penned by Oren Uziel and a story writing by him and Doug Jung, is accessible to many non-Cloverfield viewers out there. Thus, seeing Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane is not essential to watching The Cloverfield Paradox. That being said, the reworked purposing of story to be part of the Cloverfield franchise has some pretty interesting moment, especially as the film expands upon the franchise mythos and offers a somewhat explanation as to why the giant monster appears in the first film and aliens in the second one. It’s an interesting prospect device angle, which plants the idea for future installments to unfold. Additionally, the movie’s story also presents an interesting (albeit classic) take on an alternate reality, which is woven to the main narrative thread and has an emotional payoff arc for the film’s character of Ava Hamilton.
In terms of presentation, The Cloverfield Paradox is actually pretty decent for sci-fi film. The primary setting within the Cloverfield Space Station is solid and feels approximately genuine to make it believe to us (the viewer). Thus, I have to applaud the main filmmaker’s team, including Doug J. Meerdink (production), Dan Mindel (cinematography), and Bear McCreary (film composer) for their work on this film. Although, despite the fact that the Cloverfield films usually have a small production budget, it was clear to me that the film’s felt a bit restrictive budget was felt on this project than the other ones.
Unfortunately, The Cloverfield Paradox ultimately falters, crippling the film from reaching the success that the previous two films were able to achieve. Perhaps one of the problems that the movie has is that it tries a bit too hard in trying act as an integral piece in linking this cinematic universe (i.e. Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane). As stated above, Uziel’s screenplay was originally suppose to be its own standalone film (i.e. God Particle), but then was rebranded as “Cloverfield 3” and, as the saying goes “the proof is in the pudding”. The Cloverfield Paradox does offer an explanation as to why the events of the two past films are able to come to pass and does sets up future installments in the series (Cloverfield 4 which is now titled Overlord), but the movie just simply fails to enrich itself through a cinematic experience in both a thematic sense and in a narrative sense. To be quite honest, the film (overall) feels like a TV movie (something on the Syfy channel) and seriously lacks a certain “theatrical” quality, which hinders the film from being even associated with the other two movies. The Cloverfield Paradox also has the appropriate twists and turns one would expect from such an endeavor in order to spice up events. However, most of these “twists” are lackadaisical and fall short in comparison to the many found in both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. There’s also a problem with the movie’s tonal shift, which shifts been serious and comical, and the shift themselves seem jarring and lack any substance with their respective context.
Additionally, the film, which is setup as a sci-fi horror flick, feels generic and derivative to the genre it’s sit in. Right from the get-go, The Cloverfield Paradox feels similar to other films like Alien, Even Horizon, and Life. However, those films were executed much better, which makes them more entertaining than this movie. Thus, this third Cloverfield movie tries to be like them, but can’t its own groove and is more of a shallow feature than anything else. It also doesn’t help that the film itself is roughly one hour and forty minutes as Onah has a hard time juggling all the various plot points and characters throughout the film. What makes it even worse is that Onah (and Uziel) choose to the story angle more so than the character, which makes the cast of characters in the film underdeveloped. Also, the movie includes a subplot storyline to follow, which acts a bridge between the Cloverfield movies, but (as a whole) this “B” storyline is largely pointless, half-baked, and boring and ultimately distracts from the main narrative thread, further adding confusion to the film’s world-building universe.
The cast in The Cloverfield Paradox is a recognizable and talented group of actors and actresses, but their thespian talents are (for the most part) squander in such a film like this, finding many of them to be one-dimensional caricatures that lack depth and are easily disposable without disrupting the narrative plot at hand. Perhaps the only one character in the film that has any depth is the character of Ava Hamilton, who is played by actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Known for her roles in Concussion, Beauty and the Beast, and Belle, Mbatha-Raw is the somewhat de facto main protagonist character that the film follows and she definitely does handle herself quite well in the role. Additionally, of all the characters in the film, Mbatha-Raw’s Ava is given the most character development, which is grounded in an emotional arc that feels from onset to conclusion. By association to Mbatha-Raw’s Ava, actor Roger Davies (Family Affairs and Dream Team) does well as Ava’s husband Michael Hamilton. Although, his journey in The Cloverfield Paradox seems boring and unfulfilling by the time the movie’s credits begin to roll.
The rest of the cast, which includes David Oyelowo (Selma and A United Kingdom) as Kiel, Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Basterds and Rush) as Schmidt, John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook and Kong: Skull Island) as Monk, Chris O’Dowd (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Bridesmaids), Aksel Hennie (The Martian and Hercules) as Volkov, Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha and Crouching Tigger, Hidden Dragon), and Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) as Mina Jensen (a mysterious character that suddenly shows up on-board the Cloverfield space station) are given less characteristic as characters and are more serviceable as narrative plot points in the story. As I stated, the cast is likeable from their previous projects and the acting by all is solid, but I really didn’t personally care about their respective characters that much, which mostly took my whole viewing experience “out” of the film.
All of this really begs the question as to why this movie was released on Netflix? What did the company (Netflix) hope to gain from this? What would’ve happened if the movie was a theatrical release? Would’ve the movie been reworked and tweaked more to fit a theatrical motion picture release? All of these are good question, but, for now at least, it looks like they’re just as ambiguous and unclear as to the Shepard Particle Accelerator (and the dangers its brought into our reality).
After a disastrous and failed malfunction in their accelerator, the crew on aboard the Cloverfield space station are left stranded in space, looking for answers and a way back home in the movie The Cloverfield Paradox. Director Julius Onah newest film takes the third installment in the franchise by presenting a new genre to explore in the sci-fi / horror as well as expanding upon the ideas of film saga’s mythos into the two previous Cloverfield films. Unfortunately, the while premise is there (and the idea solid) and the cast is recognizable and talented, the film is a step down in quality from its predecessors with a formulaic storyline path, a messy narrative, convoluted subplots, and lacking much (but not all) emotional substance within its characters / dramatic moments. Personally, this movie was pretty “meh” and disappointing. It had its moments (sometimes), but felt underwhelming, especially coming off the great success found in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Thus, I would give this a “skip it” as the film really doesn’t offer much in the way of being remembered or noteworthy and ultimately feels like the “black sheep” of the Cloverfield franchise. While I believe it’s easily accessible as a sci-fi / horror flick, The Cloverfield Paradox is (beyond a doubt) the weakest entry in the Cloverfield series to date and will only be remembered for it sudden and surprising release on Netflix after Super Bowl LII. In short, The Cloverfield Paradox is a good gimmick for a marketing tool, but just lacks substance within its context.
2.5 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: February 4th, 2018
Reviewed On: February 7th, 2018
The Cloverfield Paradox is 103 minutes and is rated TV-MA (most likely for sci-fi violence and language)