The Cloverfield franchise continued its adept surprise-marketing technique during Super Bowl LII. With a brief teaser trailer dropping for The Cloverfield Paradox (once entitled God Particle), the Netflix-acquired film from Bad Robot announced that the film would be coming very soon. Opening up the Netflix app revealed further that the film would be available to stream immediately following the big game.
This essentially unprecedented marketing move is sure to pay big dividends for Netflix, at least in the film’s first few days on the site. The crazy thing about this is that the story about Netflix potentially acquiring Cloverfield 3 surfaced mere days before this surprise release. Before that acquisition story dropped, the film had an expected April release date.
The bang-up marketing abilities of Bad Robot aside, The Cloverfield Paradox is still a movie. And this is a movie review, not a marketing review.
The Cloverfield Paradox takes place on an international space station orbiting the planet. The station’s name: The Cloverfield.
In an opening credits montage, we see the small crew fail at firing a particle accelerator. A digital readout counts the ever-increasing days that the expedition has burned in trying to get this alternative energy source operational. Meanwhile, various countries on Earth are on the brink of war for oil.
During one of the Cloverfield’s attempts to fire the accelerator, the station gets heavily damaged. But also…they lose all sign of the Earth. And this is just the start of the odd changes that this action causes. I have yet to mention the woman in the walls. Or the weird eyeball stuff. Or the worms.
The science fiction artifice of the Cloverfield is no different then previous science fiction horror films. Most notably Alien and its sequels, but also last year’s Life. The sets are metallic and populated by random tech. The cast is small and kept in tight corridors. Like with 10 Cloverfield Lane, this small cast and enclosed setting are used in attempts to create a realistic tone while keeping a low budget.
This said, The Cloverfield Paradox expands its perspective beyond the blind confusion of a select few. The film jumps from the station back to Earth, which diffuses the claustrophobic atmosphere that made 10 Cloverfield Lane so effective.
What diffuses atmosphere most severely, however, are the characters that find themselves not only lost in space, but lost in dimensions. Aside from their last names, the only individualizing characteristics of the Shepard team crew are their nations of origin and their ranks. Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) is the comic relief mechanic. Monk (John Ortiz) is the doctor. Kiel (David Oyelowo) is the commander of the crew. And Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the protagonist, because she is the first character we meet in the film.
The predicament our characters find themselves in is less exciting because the characters are razor thin. Hamilton has a family, so I guess we sympathize with her. But who is she? What motivates her? Why is she on this mission? Why are any of the crew on the mission?
We don’t know who any of them are. The ensemble cast is comprised of a lot of talent, but without characters that we care about their performances mean little.
The film could surpass this flaw, at least in part, if the narrative had any intrigue to it. It begins with plenty of that, posing questions with striking imagery (the aforementioned woman in the walls, the worms, the eye, etc.). The film also introduces some superficial context to the Cloverfield universe—maybe.
But it doesn’t amount to much, as the film bounces around in an attempt to create set pieces. In doing so, the film becomes cluttered. The narrative becomes a shooting gallery plot that lacks the structure needed to make its intriguing imagery pay off.
The over-arching narrative thread of the movie will get lost in a sequence dead-set on killing off a character. Then, the characters will return to this over-arching plot as if that sequence didn’t matter. The ramifications of actions are ignored, and characters merely do what is necessary for the next scene to occur. This could be a casualty of the poor character work, or it could merely be a script that cares more about raising a body count than about storytelling.
After the surprisely taut and effective 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Cloverfield Paradox is a colossal disappointment. It is generically conventional and generally uninteresting. It is competently directed, for the most part (there are a large amount of unmotivated canted angles that don’t look great). It is competently acted, particularly with a good turn from Mbatha-Raw.
But where 10 Cloverfield Lane sells itself on mystique marketing and the Cloverfield name and comes out better for it, The Cloverfield Paradox does the same and comes off looking like a foolish attempt at building a franchise.
The Cloverfield Paradox: C-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)