The True Paradox is Why They Made The Cloverfield Paradox
A surprise movie release, The Cloverfield Paradox debuted on Netflix just after the Super Bowl last night. Setting out to further explore the universe initially set up with 2008’s Cloverfield, The Cloverfield Paradox gives us a more definitive answer as to where the catastrophic species originated from. The Cloverfield (now) franchise is turning into a promising one, especially after the surprise hit 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016. However, The Cloverfield Paradox never quite breaks through the barrier between a safe, seen-it-all-before sci-fi film and fresh take on the sci-fi/horror genre.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
I am a big fan of Cloverfield (2008) and was immediately excited to hear about its expansion with future spin-off/anthology films. 10 Cloverfield Lane held up to its hype for me. I became very intrigued with The Cloverfield Paradox upon seeing its cast. It looked like another film that was going to be led by plenty of strong performers. Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War  and Rush ) has always impressed me, alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw who we all remember from the heartbreaking Black Mirror “San Junipero” episode. Also featured are David Oyelowo (Selma and A United Kingdom), Chris O’Dowd, and Elizabeth Debicki. They all perform well enough in their roles, but there wasn’t much substance to any of them. This is a fault of the writing, mostly, however.
Other than Mbatha-Raw’s character, Hamilton, no one felt particularly special. They each had their own quirks and distinctions between them that made them all unique. However, the film didn’t quite build up any relationships between them. We’re meant to accept the premise that their being up in a space station for two years has forced them all to learn to cohabitate. However, that’s not a strong enough way of relaying personal relationships. We needed more from each character beforehand for the events later in the movie to hold any real value. I don’t want to be guessing at who’s going to die next; their deaths should affect me.
There were also parts of the film where the dialogue seemed to be too “on-the-nose.” Take Donal Logue’s cameo, for instance. Donal shows up for two minutes simply to give us a direct foreshadowing/explanation for what is literally going to happen through the rest of the film. His saying the phrase “breaking through to other dimensions and unleashing monsters, creatures, demons…” is all you need from this movie. With that practically given away, you can now only watch the film for its final connection to the rest of the universe. None of what we get, though, has enough weight to make this a strong standalone.
This is important. If the creative direction for Cloverfield not to produce direct sequels or prequels, but anthology types where we get bits of information and background on different spots in the timeline, then each film has to be thought of as a strong standalone film first. Connections to the universe should come later.
In other spots, the actors didn’t seem invested either. Just watch the scene where O’Dowd’s character, Mundy, loses his arm in a freakish way and you’ll know what I’m talking about immediately. Only cheesy one-liners and relatively unchanged emotions follow, and it forced me to roll my eyes a few times.
For what it’s worth though, I will say I generally liked everyone in the film. As I said before, the cast all performs well enough, there are bits that are very engaging and strong that will keep you entertained.
Julius Onah directed The Cloverfield Paradox. Onah seemed more interested in creating a “trapped in space” horror film than a clever sci-fi thriller. The writing team of Oren Uziel and Doug Jung seemed to have scraped for originality. Some smaller twists felt genuine and smart, but the movie never got to soar above anything we’ve already seen in this genre.
The pacing was messy, sacrificing some human connection with angry turns of plot to keep the film moving quickly. The film also had the bad habit of giving us one foiling plot device, followed by a lull where our cast recovers, and just when they get going again, we get another foiling plot device. By about halfway through the ordeal, I began to wonder if the writers ran out of gas.
The Cloverfield Paradox feels like the creative team was trying really hard to give us a great iteration within Cloverfield’s lore, and not. It also felt like they were trying to do new and inventive things with the sci-fi/horror genre, and not. It was a weird 50/50 pull all the way through. There would be something that would grab my attention and keep it for a bit but ended with a low-payoff. This is not something that you’d want from a film that’s meant to carry on a strong up-and-coming franchise.
The visual quality was impressive. JJ Abrams’ production money apparently goes a long way. The spectacles from space and the horror effects are all very nicely made. Perhaps my favorite moment, visually, was the flash-frozen water. It was original, fascinating, and one of the only parts to have emotional weight that wasn’t attached to Hamilton.
Final Rating: 5.5/10
Cloverfield (2008) is my favorite film within the now-dead found-footage genre. It was refreshing, grand, exciting, and intriguing. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a wonderful departure, a great standalone film, and a smart connection to the original. The Cloverfield Paradox never quite feels like a connection, until it’s explicitly given to you outright. And it never feels like a strong sci-fi/horror standalone, it merely hits the notes that those films are meant to. It disappointed me because I really wanted to like it the entire time, but by the end, my expectations were not satisfied. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the standout here; it’s worth watching for her.