Edit: 02/11/18 – I watched it again. It got worse. Commensurately, I have lowered the score from 5/10 to 4/10. PSA: I don’t recommend watching The Cloverfield Paradox twice. You really start to notice the dialogue and lazy jumpscare audio cues. Also, the connection to the original Cloverfield makes less sense than ever.
At this point, it should go without saying that the Cloverfield series is somewhat atypical. The original, released in 2008, was a unique but flawed found footage monster movie that may be most notable for its insane viral marketing. Eight years later, a trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane hit the internet with no warning and announced that the film was an indirect sequel to the original, and it would be in theaters in just a few short months. Where Cloverfield was bombastic, frantic and gritty, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a slow burn thriller that had next to no connections to the world of the original until the last few minutes.
The newest film in the “series,” The Cloverfield Paradox, was announced during Superbowl LII and premiered on Netflix that same night. This unconventional approach to marketing and the series’ anthology approach to individual installments has made Cloverfield one of the most unusual and fascinating modern franchises to follow. It also doesn’t hurt that 10 Cloverfield Lane was a legitimately fantastic movie.
True to form, The Cloverfield Paradox is neither a ground level destruction fest nor a tense, intimate thriller. Unfortunately, actually quantifying the genre of the film is quite challenging, as I’m not entirely convinced that the filmmakers ever knew either. It starts out as a high concept sci-fi drama akin to Interstellar, briefly turns into a gory space horror film like Alien, and then turns back into Interstellar, but seems to have dropped the most intriguing elements of its first third. All of this makes for a mostly unoriginal, somewhat entertaining, and wildly inconsistent movie.
The plot follows the team of the Cloverfield Station, a state-of-the-art vessel carrying something called the Shepard, the largest particle collider ever constructed. The hope is that, with this collider, the team will be able to generate virtually unlimited energy, which is very badly needed on earth due to an energy crisis which is apparently so extreme that it’s causing Russia to threaten invasion for some reason. While the world falls apart, the crew of the Cloverfield works tirelessly for two years to successfully fire the Shepard.
While this is all generally interesting flavor for the world, it is worth noting that it makes absolutely no sense within the established timeline of the other films. If this global energy crisis is so severe that America is expecting a Russian invasion and lines to get a tank of gas stretch for blocks, I kind of assume that it may have been mentioned at some point during the original Cloverfield, as it takes place after Paradox.
Timeline issues and silly Russian invasions aside, the plot really kicks into gear when the team finally does get the Shepard to fire successfully, until it overloads, causing not only damage to the ship but to the fabric of time and space itself. From this point until about thirty minutes later, The Cloverfield Paradox is intense, clever, unsettling, and kind of nightmarish. It’s also the best part of the film, a few silly jump scares and irritating audio cues aside. There is a pervasive sense of dread, confusion, and unpredictability that I found compelling. Unfortunately, that momentum fizzles out and leaves another hour of predictable, generic sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. None of it is overtly bad, just woefully unoriginal in comparison to the preceding thirty-five minutes.
At this point, I will be going into spoilers because there were a couple of things that were so dumb during the last third of the film that I feel compelled share them. So scroll past the bullet-pointed list if you want to avoid spoilers!
- The film established that space is cold, and would immediately freeze anything that it came into contact with. If you show a small breech instantly freezing and depressurizing an entire room once, you have to be consistent with that when it happens again. Why does it affect Chinese engineer but not stoic blonde lady? Physics are usually pretty consistent last time I checked.
- What in the hell made the crew so certain that overloading the Shepard a second time would automatically send them back to their own dimension? Is it not just as likely that it would send them to some random other dimension? Are there only two dimensions, and if so, how the fuck would they know that?
- The idea of elements from multiple dimensions interacting was way more interesting than the idea that they just kind of zapped into some other one. It also explains how the worms got into Russian stereotype man, how stoic blonde (which is what I desperately want them to name the sequel to Atomic Blonde) lady ended up in the wall, and how sassy Irishman got his arm removed by a wall. If they just hopped to an alternate dimension, then it probably means that alternate Russian stereotype man had himself a nice little midnight snack and alternate stoic blonde lady just really likes cuddling up inside of walls.
- Why did the magnetic dust tendrils eat sassy Irishman? How does that make any sense within the context of all of the other events?
- Edit 02/11/18 – The Mission Impossible clock logic during the “decouple the maintenance ring” sequence is really irritating. Also, why in the blue fuck would it take three of them to do that job?
- Edit 02/11/18 – Why was there no weird gravity disturbance on the way back given that there was on the way to the alternate dimension? It’s almost like there are no rules, or as one character says, “Logic doesn’t apply here.”
- Are you seriously telling me that they spent two fucking years just failing to get the Shepard to work, and nobody thought of venting the condensation? That one oversight kept them up there for two years, where they were apparently just playing foosball and eating 3D printed bagels. Hysterical.
I have now concluded all spoiler talk, and you may resume reading without fear of being spoilerized.
My point is not to say that The Cloverfield Paradox is necessarily bad, but instead that it wastes most of its potential. As the film progresses, it becomes less interesting, and more straightforward, and ends up disappointing by the conclusion. All of this points to a fundamental lack of identity. The beauty of the Cloverfield series is that the filmmakers of individual installments can make entirely unique movies without needing to worry about matching the tone or genre of any of the other installments. Cloverfield, for all of its flaws, knew what it was. 10 Cloverfield Lane knew exactly what it was, and executed on that vision exceptionally well. The Cloverfield Paradox has no idea what it is. Is it a horror film? Is it a sci-fi drama? Is it the secret catalyst for the events of the first entry in the series, or is it interested in telling an entirely disconnected story within that world?
Ultimately, the answer is yes. It is all of those things, and each is executed to a different level of effectiveness. Never exactly bad but not quite good either, The Cloverfield Paradox is a confused, uneven movie that never figures itself out well enough to clue in the audience. Regardless, there is still a great deal of pleasure to be found in the series at large, its bizarre approach to marketing, and its unique anthology structure. No matter how disappointing this one entry is, I find my self increasingly excited for whatever comes next, because with this franchise you never quite know.