I loved 2008’s Cloverfield and its sequel/spinoff/whatever-it-is 10 Cloverfield Lane. They were both incredibly different, but offered wonderful takes on a now resurfacing Kaiju genre. The first film, directed by Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes, the upcoming The Batman), had a small scale visual effect on a much larger story and made an impact on audiences with its found-footage style cinematography. 10 Cloverfield Lane, directed by Dan Trachtenberg, was a more contained thriller that kept audiences in suspense with its amazing performances and claustrophobic setting (read our review here). However, it was difficult seeing how 10 Cloverfield Lane connected with the first film, and audiences were puzzled by the supposed cinematic universe Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams were setting up. It was unclear how the “Cloververse,” as some are now calling it, all fit together. The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah, attempts to answer questions surrounding the franchise, but it actually just ended up asking way more questions with even more uncertainty. I don’t know if this is due to Abrams’ signature “mystery box” obsession or just a lack of direction. Maybe these filmmakers are geniuses, but this film doesn’t help us get anywhere closer to figuring out the overarching story behind the films.
Also, because this film is out now on Netflix and I can’t really go into my thoughts without delving into spoilers:
Okay, let’s start with the plot. In the future, the Earth’s energy is on the verge of being nearly depleted so a team of people get sent up into space to try to harness unlimited energy to save the world. Their plan is to collide a bunch of particles together at crazy speeds similar to the Large Hadron Collider that exists today in France. After several unsuccessful attempts, the crew finally succeeds and achieves a stable energy source… or so they thought. When a supposed malfunction happens on the ship, the crew members suddenly realize that the entire Earth has suddenly vanished. What follows is a giant series of twists and turns dealing with other dimensions and space-time rifts, and this has to all somehow deal with the Cloverfield franchise and connect the other two movies.
The most interesting thing I can talk about this movie isn’t the movie itself, but everything surrounding it. Way back in 2012, a film titled God Particle was slated to be released under Paramounts InSurge label with a budget of $5-10 million. Writer Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street) did the screenplay and Julius Onah was set to direct with J.J. Abrams producing under his company, Bad Robot Productions. Uziel supposedly sold the script as a spec script around the same time Paramount and Bad Robot bought The Cellar, which went on to be refactored into 10 Cloverfield Lane. However, God Particle was different since Uziel never really wrote the script to be a reworked into a Cloverfield film and The Cellar went through numerous rewrites including one from La La Land director Damien Chazelle. However, in 2015, Paramount shut down InSurge and while The Cellar was moved to Paramount, God Particle was still out in the open. Then in February 2016, when 10 Cloverfield Lane, the movie that came out of The Cellar, released, Paramount said they were planning for a February 2017 release for God Particle with Abrams still attached as producer. Filming ended in September 2016, but during filming Uziel learned that the film was being reworked as a Cloverfield film like 10 Cloverfield Lane was. He wrote additional scenes to tie in with the franchise, Onah and crew shot it, and filming finally wrapped.
Then in December 2016, it became a widespread rumor that God Particle was a Cloverfield movie, and Paramount later confirmed the connection. The company also moved the film’s release to October 2017 for post-production. At this time, the budget increased from its initial $10 million. In July 2017, Parmount moved it again to February 2018. In January 2018, they again moved it to April 20, 2018. Something was off. Around this time, it was heavily rumored that Netflix was interested in buying the film for their streaming platform. At this point, the film’s budget had exceeded $40 million, making it $15 million more expensive than the original and $25 million more than 10 Cloverfield Lane. Given how many small, original sci-fi adult oriented films were performing at the box office, Paramount decided that the film’s budget was too large to be considered profitable with the theatrical release so they supposedly sold it to make their money back and avoid a high risk. The fate of God Particle was unknown. Then, suddenly at Super Bowl LII, Netflix released a 30 second trailer for the film, now titled The Cloverfield Paradox, and they pulled one of the biggest marketing stunts I’ve seen for a movie. They didn’t just release the trailer, they ended the ad by stating the film was releasing on the site right after the Super Bowl. Everyone went crazy, and so did I. But then I watched the movie.
Yeah… it’s not good. The first half of it was a great premise with great performances even though it was a little derivative of stuff we’ve seen before, but then it turned into a Cloverfield movie and I don’t think this movie should have been changed to service a franchise. It seemed at first like the crew all had this common goal of saving humanity, but then a villainous subplot was shoehorned in. This movie was a mix of Life and Event Horizon, and The Cloverfield Paradox falls somewhere in the middle, which isn’t a good sign since neither of those movies were very good in my opinion (Life was decent, but still derivative of far better films). There are elements of space-time mishaps that needed better development, and none of the characters really had arcs except for Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character.
The performances were actually really good for what the actors were given. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, and the rest of the cast all give good performances, but the story doesn’t focus much on the overarching personal morals behind each character. The film is also pretty well directed for the first half, but then it feels all over the place and certain decisions feel rushed. Maybe if the film had more time to allow us to care about these people, it would have worked. There are a lot of visual space stuff in the movie and illusions that Onah pulls off pretty well. Chris O’Dowd’s severed arm is an actual character that serves the plot, and I thought that visual joke was cool.
The actual sci-fi content of the movie is the good stuff. Then there were other sights all stemming from the Cloverfield horror side of things that were the complete opposite and just felt disgusting for the sake of being “hard-R” even though this isn’t really a “hard-R” movie. The stuff about the best horror movies is that they make us fear the scenarios because they offer just enough explanations or hints that our minds start to wander in a scary place. Ridley Scott’s Alien is terrifying because we don’t know how to destroy the titular monster, but we get little clues as to what it looks like before the big reveal and everything feels one step away from death. There are movies that spend way too much time explaining the horror and those overshoot it and often feel boring, but then there are films like The Cloverfield Paradox, which doesn’t even offer any hints to explain anything and expects audiences to be frightened. It’s so detached from its audience, which is ironic since the 2008 Cloverfield was shot from a regular person’s perspective and 10 Cloverfield Lane offered a much more human take on the concept.
Then there was the ending. SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE ENDING:
What? What happened? They went back to their dimension, got in the escape pod, and flew into the clouds. Then the Cloverfield monster, somehow TALLER THAN THE SKY, jumped out, presumably killing the characters of Mbatha-Raw and Bruhl, and the movie ended. ??? Can someone please explain? What happened? WHAT HAPPENED!?!? There was no buildup except for the idea that a multiverse portal could allow demons to enter our world, but WHY IS THIS ONE GIANT AF!?!?! If it’s tens of thousands of feet tall one stop would destroy everything on impact. Again, this is my problem with this movie – it ultimately doesn’t tie much together and just creates more questions.
The Cloverfield Paradox set up some cool possibilities going forward, but ultimately the marketing stunt was wasted on a mediocre film repackaged as a grand franchise entry. It’s all talk and no doing, and I would have really liked to see the original God Particle film. I know there’s a fourth movie called Overlord that’s set in WWII and is about super-powered Nazis, and that sounds cool I guess. For now, though, we have these three movies and this one doesn’t do that well by comparison.
So that’s my review of The Cloverfield Paradox! What do you think of the movie, and what do you think of the franchise going forward? Feel free to let me know in the comments section. Thanks!