The first Cloverfield movie just turned ten years old, and still to this day remains a personal favorite to put on and simply enjoy the rollercoaster theme park attraction ride that it is, with a script imbued with quite a bit of heart by screenwriter Drew Goddard. 10 Cloverfield Lane was retrofitted into a spiritual sequel, where Dan Trachtenberg’s follow up feature was working off of a very compelling script rewritten by Damien Chazell. It was another home run for the genre fan in me, presenting an incredible nailbiting thriller between the three talented and captivating leads. Basically, I’m 100% on board for whatever it is Bad Robot is trying to do here.
Cue God Particle…
Or now The Cloverfield Paradox as it’s been officially retitled. Originally scripted and optioned long before even 10 Cloverfield Lane, and eventually folded into the “Cloververse” by J.J. Abrams, Bad Robot, and Paramount, feels exactly the way it should… like a movie that has been knocked around for too many years, by too many people, forcibly crammed into a mold for which it probably wasn’t intended. Retrofitted in in such a forceful way that the budget somehow went from $5million all the way up to $40 million apparently due to constant reshoots. It’s another Hollywood move that is chasing trends rather than taking chances. If the Cloverfield universe is going to be a thing, shouldn’t it be a natural progression and not this slap dash “what scripts do we have laying around that can be ripped apart and stitched back together so we can write in a Slusho reference?”
The first two films deal with a complex internal dillema of the leads that manage to manifest themselves narratively and thematically. There’s a reason why Rob happens to be moving to Japan as he deals with the fall out of his relationship just as a giant Kaiju attacks Manhattan and he’s forced to struggle and become a stronger individual willing to sacrifice for love. There’s a reason why Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) feels trapped in her relationship and runs away just as she happens to find herself locked up in a bomb shelter and needs to physically and metaphorically find her wits, courage and strength to breach the hatch and escape entrapment. The two films are telling you a theme on multiple levels of narrative playing fields. Cloverfield Paradox hops into a new dimension and still manages to be nothing but surface nonsense that for some reason involves a 3D printed gun and haunted foosball table. Oh, and an anthropomorphic arm that scribble out a note to get the plot moving again.
Which brings us to the plot. Given how this series has been built on secrecy since day one, I’ll try and avoid spoilers over this write up. It’s sad to see what could have been a deep space parlor drama fall so rigidly into the now apparent, formulaic structure of the first two Cloverfield films. It doesn’t even sneak up on you, the first 10 minutes of the film are painfully trying to recreate the style and tone beat for beat with an opening scene meant to emotional ground the audience with its lead character, glimpsing at the narrative crux of their purpose over the next 90 minutes, followed up by the credits serving as a way to speed up the narrative plot through visual snap shots, and then we get to meet up with our team of one note plot fodder who this time are aboard a massive space station. The only element change of note this time is a plot that has about seven characters to juggle, lazily* introducing everyone by having them speak in science fiction cliches, forced to play one dimensional characters with a similarly flat sense of urgency to their mission.
Around this point my spider-sense began tingling, and I was starting to understand why Paramount has been so hot and cold with the release of this feature since early last year. It’s unavoidably generic from the start. It’s one thing to choose the trope of having every day people forced to deal with a crisis in ways that can place viewers in their shoes, it’s another to go the tried and true Hollywood route of taking a team of scientist and choosing to dumb them down for the same purpose. We were led to believe this would be a smarter franchise. Instead we have a cast of indistinguishable astronauts, tasked with solving the global energy crisis causing nations to ramp up war efforts back on Earth. Things sound bleak. In order for this to work, for some reason they had to build a large particle accelerator in zero gravity? Honestly, the science is never once really addressed because the first time we see them activate the machine is after 47 failed attempts that happened off screen over the course of two years which were breezed over during the credits. Why the same group is up there for that long considering they’re in low earth orbit is never addressed, and the obvious idea of cabin fever is used as the very first trope used to try and give us the fastest introduction to our crew. Our generic, predictably one note, always make the worst decisions crew.
As the next attempt is under way, we’re given the brief glimpse of a stable beam, which then causes and unstable beam that quickly becomes a complete system failure, which then turns into the entire planet Earth being blipped out of existence. What follows is pretty much exactly what you would expect. So what happened here with this movie, and why was Netflix so quick to snatch it up?
Much like the new Netflix series “Altered Carbon,” Paradox feels like nothing short of a slapdash genre mashup that tries to simply keep the plot moving by elbowing you in the ribs with all of the elements it’s thinks will make you warm and happy on the inside because they feel familiar. “You know these things, isn’t it cool that they’re all here?!” The film repeatedly shoves in your face. Only it becomes so seemingly proud of itself for having seen every space movie that it forgets to find something original worth exploring. It’s a feature they would be excited about because it checks off so many elements that their internal algorithms tell them makes a good investment. They need to start considering what makes a good film, because viewers are going to connect this misfire to their brand, not Paramount who managed to wisely get away unscathed from this one.
There’s a large segment of the audience out there that wants the people behind these movies (Matt Reeves, Bryan Burk, J.J. Abrams) to show their homework regarding the relation from one film to the next. Cloverfield Paradox attempts to have its cake and eat it to by obfuscating an answer that still creates too many questions. Only these ones aren’t fun questions. These are ones where the internal logic of the story has to twist and contort and simply break itself numerous times in order pat itself on the back for a job well done.
Anything remotely evoking a response is due in large part to the fact that unlike all of the direct to streaming sci fi schlock clogging those series of tubes over at Netflix, this one comes with two aces up its sleeve: Both a stellar and talented cast makes the painful words on the page come across as far more compelling than they deserve; Above all else though, Paradox managed to secure another brilliant Bear McCreary composed film score. Sadly the film knows this, as you will begin to notice it lean heavily on the music to create any sense of emotional connection to what is happening on screen. Cinematographer Dan Mindel doesn’t help matters much, shooting the feature in such a way that it can’t find a balance between cheap series pilot and stealing from himself with the exact same style he used on both of Abrams’ Star Trek films.
Chop out all of the Earth based narrative happenings with our lead’s husband and you might get a reasonable hour long episode of a lower tier “Black Mirror” episode, where at least that is still somewhat of a compliment. Instead we have what in every way possible is a middle of the road B-movie that has little worth adding to the genre, attempting to get by on name and mystery alone.
Unoriginal, rote, and predictable from beginning to end The Cloverfield Paradox amounts to not a whole lot worth talking about after you get past the genius marketing strategy. Culminating here in what was once an original feature that became more a blender concoction featuring just about every film premise ever set aboard a spaceship. We have gone from an original take on the kaiju genre, to a film dumped by its studio after numerous release date shifts that saved face by being picked up by the largest streaming platform. Saddled with viewer expectations due to ironically being reworked into a universe it was never meant to fit.
(*I say lazy because you couldn’t force someone to write this garbage dialogue)
Tags: bad robot, Cloverfield, Cloverfield Paradox, jj abrams, Netflix, paramount