Movie Columnist & Social Media Director
In a marketing stunt only Netflix could pretend wasn’t a straight-to-video release, a 30-second TV spot during the Super Bowl announced — seemingly out of nowhere — “The Cloverfield Paradox” would be available right after the game to watch.
For anyone aware of the film prior to this stunt, they knew of the troubled history with getting this film into theaters and the negative test screenings it received. Essentially this gimmick would work to excite people into watching it online — only way to successfully release it. And a smart move that was.
This overall uneven film likely would have been quickly forgotten had it been released traditionally — just look at how “Life” fared at the box office last year. Don’t remember a film called “Life,” starring a slew of A-List actors set in space? Exactly.
Turning Onto The Lane
We open on a long line of unmoving cars. It’s dark outside, but nothing seems to be the matter. We are introduced to a couple inside one of the cars, Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her husband, Michael (Roger Davies), as they wait their turn to get to the gas station. The world is running out of power and is on the brink of a meltdown.
Everything wrong with the rest of the film can be linked back to this opening scene.
There is no sense of pace to the way these characters interact with one another. Both are fine actors, but they are given nothing to work with. Their conversation serves only to set up conflict and move the story forward. Where the tone should be dark (there’s been five blackouts today, alone!) or melancholic (she lost her kids and apparently is going to leave her husband!), instead it is confusingly apathetic — not quite taking its own story as seriously as it should.
This is first time we are seeing the world in this shape — still pre-alien invasion, but in a much worse place than the first two films. The filmmakers unfortunately give the audience little set-up to flesh out the situation at hand.
Breaking Down The Series
The “franchise” is a beast of a thing. It was created with the intentions of flourishing over many years and featuring films with sustained audience interest. The story it is trying to tell must be severed in parts, able to conclude in one film but continue for the next one.
Cultural and technical relevance must be upheld over the time of the franchise, hoping to transcend the time in which it exists. Investments must be made in advance to a thing that has yet to come to fruition. Think of the countless “franchises” over the past decade that never made it out of one film.
With the Cloverfield saga comes an entirely different story — literally. Each film exists within the same intention (can’t say “universe” after this film) as the others. We were first introduced with “Cloverfield” in 2008 as an alien invasion film within the “found-footage” genre. It was a hit helped by a hugely successful marketing campaign. Eight years later a movie titled “10 Cloverfield Lane” drops, bringing an entirely new story crafted by new writers and director.
There were no expectations to Cloverfield being turned into an ongoing franchise, so this film garnered little excitement on that front. However, being what it was — a tight horror film starring recognizable actors — the film was a critical and commercial success. Where the film defied expectations is how it took on the role of “sequel.” You didn’t have to watch the original to understand “10 Cloverfield Lane,” something you would not expect in the age of franchises. That leads us to our newest entry, “The Cloverfield Paradox.” Like “10 Cloverfield Lane,” there is little to no connection to the previous entries beyond the word “cloverfield” — they both also, interestingly enough — existed as original films before J.J. Abrams decided to snatch them up. Unlike “10 Cloverfield Lane,” Paradox is an awful film.
Continuing Down The Lane
After the opening scene in which Hamilton and her husband discuss a decision she must make, we learn that decision was to join a crew in a journey to space to test out a new energy source using the untested method involving a particle accelerator.
As can be expected, the particle accelerator succeeds, and then very quickly fails. Soon after the crew realizes they have been sent to an alternate universe with a different Earth. Their plan is to fix their quickly crumbling ship and accelerator in order to return to the correct timeline.
During this period a foosball table has a seizure, and the mini players change colors — nothing of any sort of consequence comes of this confusing scene. A crewmember has their arm eaten by the wall of the ship. The arm then reappears, still dismembered, crawling down a hallway as if we were watching an episode of “The Addams Family.” Again nothing comes of this interesting absurdity.
In Other ✈ news…
All during this time, our characters are reacting to each new ridiculous setback and conflict with horror and anger, but the film never seems to build any sort of suspense. It is incredibly weird to watch a man’s head explode with worms, or the aforementioned arm writing a message to the crew with such little disinterest.
The cast is fairly game in playing along with each new situation they fall into — unsurprisingly Mbatha-Raw is a standout and deserves a film light years beyond what this one gives her.
What is most disappointing is each of the various conflicts introduced — and dropped — throughout the span of the film could serve as an ‘in’ to countless different films. Not least of which the ending — an homage to “Planet of the Apes” — that could have been a brilliant opening to the film but instead is a gross fake-out for the audience.
Instead, the film’s script almost seems like a brainstorming session before the actual scriptwriting where “no idea is a bad idea.” There are certainly plenty of interesting ideas, but for everyone presented, there are at least three bad ideas already drowning it out. Did I mention a dismembered arm becomes an actual character?
“The Cloverfield Paradox” should have never seen the light of day in the form it currently exists. Even as an indirect sequel, it still feels buffered down by all the elements traditional sequels succumb to: serving a wider palate of ideas that hold no stock in the present film.
Unfortunately for everyone who watched the film after the excitement of the rather smart marketing and release, they were served a heaping mess of a film.