Ten years ago, Cloverfield took me by surprise and was a pleasant and welcomed one, becoming one of my favourite films to date. Eight years later and the secret sequel-esque continuation, 10 Cloverfield Lane, had me skeptical but that vanished when I witnessed Dan Trachtenberg’s tense and well-directed take on the franchise which I then learned was merely a brand; a way to signify a theme and had more in common with The Twilight Zone anthologies than it did contemporary universes.
Not only is The Cloverfield Paradox not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, it literally makes the films prior worse. It’s a good thing that this was on Netflix; it seems middle-of-the-road for a TV movie (if that’s what we’re calling Netflix’s originals) but would have crashed and burned severely more had audiences been disappointed in a theatre with $12 missing from their wallet. Save for a few astonishing scenes, the film wastes an interesting concept, an up-and-coming franchise, some of the finest independent actors, and J.J. Abrams valuable time on a mediocre sci-fi flick.
The Cloverfield Paradox is a sci-fi thriller that tells the story of an international space crew that organizes experiments to try and find unlimited energy for a resource-drained Earth. After one of the trials goes awry, they have to work together to find out and reverse what they did to not only themselves, but the rest of the universe.
Much like the film before it, the cast in this picture is small but impactful; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Askel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki, and Roger Davis. The film didn’t deserve the cast it was allotted, and at times it felt as if the actors were aware of this fact. Mbatha-Raw gives a stellar performance as always, but the rest of the cast didn’t exactly follow suit. O’Dowd was his funny, charming self while Oyelowo and Brühl had a few believable moments, but nothing that was able to help elevate the quality of the film.
I wouldn’t call the filmmaking nor the writing lazy. The film had ambitions and took risks, they just didn’t work. Being overly-sophisticated and flirting with theoretical sciences may seem like fun, but it can’t just be used by a filmmaker who hasn’t earned the right to use them. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was ambitious in scope and astrophysics but also had the technical achievements and an experienced filmmaker to help bring them to life. Director Julius Onah had only one feature film under his belt before this effort, and that stat shows during the film.
I’d love to dive into the marketing for a moment. Part-way through the heartbreak and misery that I endured while wearing my Patriots jersey and drinking Sam Adams, a Super Bowl LII trailer dropped. Nothing out of the ordinary; many were aware it was the newest Netflix film that was rumored to be the next Cloverfield. What many didn’t expect was that it was then immediately streaming after the big game. Dropping a film and a trailer at the same time was unprecedented and caused a mix of outrage and excitement throughout the film community. Regardless of whether it will be deemed the right move when looked back at, it was undoubtedly an event in cinema not felt since the elimination of midnight screenings. I unfortunately had to wait till the next day to watch the film since my “no alcohol during a first viewing” rule had definitely come into effect; Netflix had learned a way to move this instant-gratification movement felt through television to mainstream cinema, for good or bad.
Especially with it being on Netflix, the film felt like a tremendously expensive though convoluted episode of Black Mirror. The production design has to be appreciated though; the design of the ships interior and exterior were fascinating and helped hoist it past complete rubbish. As shit starts to hit the fan, the film does become amusing. A few intriguing scenes of new conflicts occur to help bring some originality, but any mention of Cloverfield or different dimensions puts out any fire there may have been.
“Save for a few astonishing scenes, the film wastes an interesting concept, an up-and-coming franchise, some of the finest independent actors, and J.J. Abrams valuable time on a mediocre sci-fi flick.”
The decision to bring the film into the, umm, “franchise” may have been a fine idea, but to allow it to try and explain its way into the brand was fundamentally unwise. The reason to bring 10 Cloverfield Lane into the mix was done not solely to try and draw more of an audience, but to start a new anthology of sorts where the term “Cloverfield” hinted at a theme that would be apparent in the respective film. For the third in the saga to try and divulge an actual reason for the films and to give it a sense of reality answered a question true fans of the original two never asked; there was an understood reason for the title’s familiarity and to shoehorn in a lazy and impassioned response was virtually insulting.
The Cloverfield Paradox is not a good movie. I’d go as far as to say that the film is bad, but even a bad film can have some excellent sequences. For those less pretentious than myself (most, more than likely) this would be a perfect group drink’n’view event that would sanction engaging conversations throughout. Was the film entertaining? At times. Am I happy I’ve seen it? Of course. When thinking back does it conjure more positives than negatives? Absolutely not.