Netflix's "The Cloverfield Paradox" is a mess—but it's a fun mess
Well, they’ve done it again.
The Cloverfield Marketing Model
The Cloverfield franchise is almost as much fun to see distributed as it is to actually watch the films themselves. It started in 2008 with the original found-footage monster movie, “Cloverfield,” which built up quite a following while also leaving enough room for rampant fan theories and speculation. The series then lay dormant for a number of years until series producer JJ Abrams purchased the rights to a script titled “The Cellar,” which it was called until the first teaser trailer came out in January, 2016. The teaser announced both that the film’s title was actually “10 Cloverfield Lane” and that it was being released that March, only two months away. This viral marketing and fast turnaround got the movie a lot of attention, and the Cloverfield universe came back to life.
A little while ago, it was announced that JJ Abrams' production company, Bad Robot, had acquired the rights to a film called “God Particle,” which they revealed was going to be the next Cloverfield movie. Eventually it was also announced that the film had been picked up for distribution by Netflix, but then nothing was heard for a while—until the first teaser was slated to play during the super bowl.
Here’s where it gets fun.
The teaser comes on, and one final, major announcement gets dropped. It will be available to watch immediately after the game. WHAT?! Who does that?! Cloverfield, thats who.
But what is Cloverfield about?
It's actually kind of difficult to pin down what these movies are about. The first film, as I said earlier, is a found-footage monster movie that came out at the height of that trend, and it told a self-contained story. “10 Cloverfield Lane,” in 2016, is a (non-found-footage) self-contained thriller about a girl who gets into an accident and wakes up in a bunker with a sketchy guy saying it's too dangerous to go outside.
Both of these films have enough ambiguity to make very loose connections that they do indeed exist in the same fictional world, one being threatened by monsters—or aliens, or alien-monsters. Like I said, it's all very loosely connected, but the tone and world do feel consistent across the films, and both are very much stand-alone stories. That's where I thought the series was going: simple, tight, one-off, sci-fi thrillers with distinct and different styles.
The latest entry, “The Cloverfield Paradox,” is about a group of people on a space station trying to get a massive particle accelerator working in order to fix a massive energy crisis down on Earth. And so we have our movie.
Is Cloverfield good?
I am a big fan of the first two entries in this franchise, and the model they seem to be using is a really fun and original way to build a franchise.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” follows this formula, but it also attempts to tie it together. “Paradox” connections to the greater Cloverfield universe are both the movie’s strongest aspect and its greatest weakness.
Right away, the movie's special effects are surprisingly good, which really helps sell the story. The other main thing going for the film is the performances, which are solid across the board, from likable actors—most prominently Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, and Chris O’Dowd.
From the outside, this movie looks like the standard crew-isolated-on-a-ship-starts-getting-picked-off-after-messing-with-things-they-shouldn’t-have kind of movie, and, well, it is exactly that. At least part of it is. The problem with this part of the movie is that there’s really no palpable threat. It almost seems like they are being haunted by weird energy that just messes everything up but occasionally helps at random intervals. There are no rules for this antagonistic force; it just comes and goes, and it leaves us just as confused as the characters themselves. Now that being said, the sequences in this segment are well-made and enjoyably tense, and I had a good time with them.
The main hook of this movie has to do with alternate dimensions colliding in on each other as a result of the particle accelerator. This storyline provides the best drama and mystery in the movie, but it's also where the confusion comes in. I wish the movie’s attention was more focused on this idea because it's where the movie tries to tie itself into the greater world. The colliding of alternate realities and dimensions is used to explain the arrival of monsters on Earth, and they do multiple little things that connect to the original film. The problem is that there is no perfectly clean tie-in, so everything this movie does to try to connect things just muddies a thread that is already very thin. It especially muddies the timeline and honestly just makes everything way more confusing without actually providing the answers that it promised.
Are all the movies in alternate dimensions? Is this a separate incident, or is it the same incident as the original? How does this affect a 2008 version of the world when this is obviously set in a near future scenario? There are so many questions now with no answers that I almost wish they just kept it as a contained event in the world like the others.
At the same time, I was entertained by the film throughout its short and fast one-hour-and-42-minute runtime, and as much as it hurts my head to think about how it all ties together, I have a fun time trying to connect the pieces, and in that way it is successful.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” is an interesting experiment. It’s confusing and kind of a mess, but it has cool ideas and is entertaining enough in its own right. Even though it's not as good as its predecessors, it does bring yet another new and completely different entry to perhaps the most uniquely structured and distributed franchise out there.
Also, it's on Netflix. Like, you can watch a brand new movie right now that basically got announced yesterday, and you don't even have to leave the comfort of your couch.
Rated: TV-MA (IMDb gives a recommended rating of PG-13 for disturbing and bloody images, sci-fi violence, action and peril, and brief strong language)
Runtime: 1hr 42min.