“Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.” — IMDb
The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah (a Nigerian director who so far has just one other full-length film under his belt, 2015’s The Girl is in Trouble), is the third installment in the Cloverfield franchise. There was Cloverfield in 2008 (which I loved), and 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016 (which I also enjoyed quite a bit), but this one is easily the weakest of the bunch, by a long shot. The whole idea of the trio so far is that while they are connected — they all take place in the same universe on different parts of that universe’s timeline — they feature totally different people in different scenarios (so not a more traditional setup of original movie plus sequels). I really enjoy the concept as a whole, but this movie just fell short for me.
The story came from a spec script written by Oren Uziel, originally titled The God Particle, which was unconnected to the Cloverfield franchise. It was acquired by Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’s production company) in 2012, and initially had a budget of just $5-10 million as it was planned to be released under Paramount’s low-budget InSurge distribution label. When that label folded, its production was expanded and the budget soared to over $40 million. J.J. Abrams had apparently had some ideas of how to connect The God Particle to the Cloverfield family of films, but didn’t follow through until after they had begun filming in summer of 2016. Paramount confirmed its connection to the franchise in late 2016 and it had been planned to be released in February 2017 under a different name… and then October 2017, to allow for more post-production… and then February 2018… and then it was finally released in April 2018. It had some similar viral marketing as the first two movies, but they ultimately decided it wouldn’t make sense to do a theatrical release and instead sold it to Netflix to be surprise-released on the streaming service after Superbowl 2018. They made their money back, for sure, but the movie didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, and I’ll tell you why.
** SPOILERS! **
Ultimately I felt like the whole thing was a bit too obvious. There were a lot of scenes where I felt like I was being beat over the head with whatever emotion was supposed to be conveyed — there wasn’t much subtlety to be had. Like okay, there’s a fist fight on the ship, classic “tensions are boiling over” scenario. *yawn*
I feel like much of the movie was lost in flashy sets, special effects, and the ballooned budget. There’s something to be said for a movie that doesn’t rely on looking as sparkly as possible to get its message across. I felt like Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane both had a more indie feel to them, while The Cloverfield Paradox has this blockbuster aesthetic to it (which is ironic considering how much it was not…).
There’s too much technical explanation throughout, and it really prevents us from getting to know the characters or becoming attached to them in any way (well, that and the dismal script). There are several deaths throughout the film and I felt nada for each one. Even the main character, Ava’s (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), story — admittedly a very gut-wrenching one — elicited little to no emotion from me. Even the scene when she was recording a video message for her alternate dimension self… I would have normally been bawling at a scene like that, but I just sat there thinking “eh, yeah that’s sad”. By that point in the movie I should have been so much more attached to her character, but no.
I appreciated the diversity in the characters’ ethnicities. There’s even a character, Tam (played by Zhang Ziyi), who speaks entirely in Chinese. Sadly, ’twas but one positive facet to this movie.
Overall, I enjoy the general idea of the franchise, but I wish it was all tied together a little more neatly. The fact that The Cloverfield Paradox has sort of been set as this kind of origination of the merging of dimensions is interesting in a sense, and it means that there’s lots of freedom for where to go with future movies, but… maybe too much freedom, in a sense. If we’re learning that the crew of the Cloverfield Station is responsible for opening these other dimensions and allowing them to overlap, there is suddenly this untapped wealth of sci-fi stories to expand on, which could end up making the franchise even more muddled than it feels right now. As J.J. Abrams himself said…
It felt like a bit of an opportunity that was too good to pass up and kind of a catch all. On the one hand you can say ‘well then anything anywhere could be a Cloverfield movie,’ but the intention has never been take a movie and then slap Cloverfield on it.
But like, that’s exactly what you did with BOTH previous movies, dude. I just… okay.
Anyways, I will for sure be watching the fourth installment, Overlord, which will apparently be set in World War II. It’s already finished (what!?) and potentially slated for release this year, so… we’ll see (though my hopes are a bit lower now).
Rating: 3/10 | Director: Julius Onah | Writer: Oren Uziel (screenplay & story), Doug Jung (story) | Music: Bear McCreary | Cinematography: Dan Mindel | Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies