*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILIERS FOR CLOVERFIELD (2008) AND 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018)
Well. Didn’t see this coming did we? Ever since the teaser for the first Cloverfield was brought upon us back in 2007, it seems that J.J. Abrams and co. are determined as possible to raise our curiosity. Adding to that was the unexpected release of the ‘sort-of’ sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane back in 2016 which had its first trailer drop in February of that year with a release date in March. You have to admit that is pretty impressive considering we live in a day and age in which we are constantly being told about films in pre-production and their exact release date on various media outlets. It looks like that trend has continued with the release of The Cloverfield Paradox, originally titled God Particle, on Netflix which had its trailer debut during this year’s Super Bowl commercial break followed by the announcement that the entire film would be available for streaming after the game. Cloverfield was a solid entry to both the creature feature found footage genre and 10 Cloverfield Lane was an impressive contained thriller in the same vein of the suspenseful features of Alfred Hitchcock. So how does The Cloverfield Paradox fit in this so-called Cloverfield franchise? In short, it’s a pretty big disappointment.
Set in the near future where Earth is in the midst of a global energy crisis, the crew aboard the Cloverfield Station are doing all they can to discover a new energy source in order to save the planet from future global catastrophes. But when their efforts cause ruptures in space and time dimensions, the crew soon learn the errors of their ways and must now fight for survival and escape the station. On paper, this looks like it could be very similar to the tone established by 10 Cloverfield Lane, a narrative which draws from large-scale ideas but keeps its drama contained and focuses heavily on its characters. The problem here is that the action constantly shifts back and forth between what is going on in the space station and what is going down on earth with one of the crew member’s husbands.
This constant hopping causes the film to lose focus and the appeal that the first two had. This is also a very messy film. The story is written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung (best known for his screenwriting work on Star Trek Beyond) and it isn’t told in a very cohesive manner and it also fails to keep a consistent tone throughout. For example, there is a moment in which something truly horrific happens to one of the crew members and rather than the scene being played straight one of the crew members says something which feels completely out of place and ruins any form of the dramatic impact that the filmmakers hoped to have landed.
I will say this though it is a gorgeously shot film. This is the second directorial feature of Julius Onah (his first being the crime-thriller The Girl is in Trouble released back in 2015) and I have to admit he does a fantastic job with the direction here and he has a very good sense of staging some very suspenseful moment whether something is happening individually to one of the unfortunate crew members or two of them suddenly start to butt heads. The special effects are also top-notch here and the cinematography of Dan Mindel (who upon doing further research I discovered has an incredible resume working on films such as Star Trek, Enemy of the State, Mission Impossible III, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is gorgeous.
The score here is also fantastic and really ads a powerful weight to the more suspenseful moments and is composed by Bear McGreary best known for his musical work on popular television shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Outlander, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Walking Dead. All of the ingredients seem to be here for a great science fiction thriller but I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity for all of those involved. Also, while the performances here are great in particular Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who you may recognise from the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror) and Daniel Bruhl but the characters that they are playing are pretty weak. This is largely due to the fact that we don’t get an opportunity to learn that much about their characters, aside from Mbatha-Raw with her family dilemma back down to earth. I do understand that the Cloverfield series is one that relies on ambiguity and things being left to interpretation but there is a strong difference between things left in the open and things that are just not said at all.
Take the opening scene in 10 Cloverfield Lane as a prime example in which we are first introduced to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character. In the space of a couple of minutes, we get to learn so much about her and her struggles through images, barely any dialogue and great direction from Dan Trachtenberg which makes all the better when we see her try to escape from the clutches of John Goodman. You never get a sense that these are people we want to see succeed in the end mainly because the first time we are introduced to them they are all fighting with one another. I, of course, recognised Mr Chris O’Dowd but it was almost impossible to take him seriously as a scientific crew member aboard a spaceship even when you take into consideration that his character’s name is ‘Mundy’. (*snickers)
But above all else, the biggest issue I had with The Cloverfield Paradox was the actual connection or the attempt that it tries to have with the other Cloverfield films. While the first film was largely shrouded in mystery and intrigue and had an excellent online marketing campaign, this film really tries its best to give answers as to why some of the events of that film occurred in the first place. 10 Cloverfield Lane seemed to put the idea forward that this isn’t necessarily a franchise which relies on a continuous narrative but it exists as more of an anthology series like The Twilight Zone or more currently a bigger budget version of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror which I am a huge fan of. When I left the cinema after I saw that film I thought to myself that maybe the Cloverfield franchise could be one that focuses on different perspectives to extra-terrestrial invasions and could be one which opens the door for endless creative possibilities from new up and coming filmmakers.
The Cloverfield Paradox seems to neglect this assumption and present itself as a direct prequel to the first film. Instead of providing answers to some of the biggest questions of its previous instalments it ultimately raises more questions than it actually answers and culminates with a final image which aims for a grand crowd-pleasing moment but will probably have die-hard fans scratching their heads in confusion. I’ll put it to you this way, if you were a fan of some of the ‘origin theories’ on the internet of where exactly the creature in the first film came from then you will probably leave this film feeling very disappointed as I was.
The Cloverfield Paradox is far from an awful film and in some cases, it actually is a well directed and suspenseful science fiction thriller like Alien, Event Horizon, Life etc. But weak characters, a convoluted and muddled narrative and a desperate effort to connect itself to a previous film which was built off ambiguity and intrigue really do hinder this viewing experience and make it feel like a missed opportunity. Maybe if this was just made as straightforward science fiction film titled God Particle that had absolutely no association to the other two Cloverfield films then I would have walked away thinking: “It was a bit messy but it had some enjoyable moments” but as something which has the high hopes of being part of a larger cinematic universe, it really does fall flat on its face. Maybe there was a reason after all why the release date was so sudden and unexpected. Sean Moriarty