Movie Reviews: The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Well, how’s that for a surprise?  Okay, dropping the third movie in the Cloverfield series shouldn’t be anything special, but for a series that has long prided itself on secrecy, this is a natural extension of all that.  The first Cloverfield film (directed by Matt Reeves who would later helm the two most recent Planet of the Apes films and written by a pre-Cabin in the Woods Drew Goddard) kept its plot and even its title (as Cloverfield was not the intended one) hidden until nearly its release, relying on ambiguous teasers and viral marketing to build up the hype.  That marketing was a huge success and a sequel was a given.  It took eight years though before one was made and that too was left ambiguous in the lead up with a bunch of references being made to how it is very much not a real sequel.

SPOILERS FOR 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

They weren’t kidding as 10 Cloverfield Lane (which I coincidentally turned off another Matt Reeves film to make sure I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane in preparation for this review) is a sequel seemingly only in name.  While the first is a found footage film (which along with Paranormal Activity can largely be credited with the found footage boom) which morphs into a kaiju film, the sequel was seemingly marketed as a two-hander and revealed itself as a traditionally shot, claustrophobic thriller with three actors of any note in screen time which morphed into a bonkers alien invasion film in its final moments.

END OF SPOILERS

There’s no indication that this is the same universe as the first film and there’s not even any continuity in creatives behind the film besides of course the man behind this all, J.J. Abrams.  Instead, the sequel originated from an unrelated one by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken which was rewritten by Damien Chazelle (who would have directed before leaving to make Whiplash) and was directed by first timer Dan Trachtenberg.  It made Cloverfield into the thing John Carpenter intended Halloween to be, an anthology series with only the loosest overall theme connecting them.  Also, unlike the Halloween series which went from “awesome initial idea (before being beat into the ground by sequels)” to “ridiculous and dumb”, Cloverfield went from “great idea, shame it was mediocre in execution” to “very good, shame the end was… I’m still not sure where I fall on that end”.

Until the day of its premiere, this installment didn’t even have a name.  It was called some variation of God Particle and then later Untitled Cloverfield Sequel (for plot related reasons), and dated back to 2012, well before even the release of the last installment.  It’s a movie that felt like it’s been coming out for forever, and yet it’s been remarkably easy for me to avoid what little plot details have come out besides the fact that it is on a space station.  The part of me that likes going into films as blind as possible eats this shit up and maybe that’s why in an era of countless trailers and interviews about what’s going to happen in the film, there’s one little corner of the film universe where this isn’t true.  It’s also the first time I’ve gotten to be there in the initial period of excitement.

Like 10 Cloverfield LaneThe Cloverfield Paradox comes to us from a first time feature director, Julius Onah and also from an outside writer in Oren Uziel (that Mortal Kombat short and 22 Jump Street).  It was likewise converted from an unrelated script and also has quite the cast including Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, Elizabeth Debicki, David Oyelowo, John Ortiz, Zhang Ziyi, and Donal Logue.  If you are looking for the Spoil Sports article, it’s right here

The world of The Cloverfield Paradox is one where the people are running out of food and power.  In an effort to get that power, a space station is sent into space with the aim of creating enough using a particle accelerator.  We get a quick scene on Earth before we are sent into space with an international crew.  The movie montages 694 days into the mission before we get to the first test and I don’t think I have to tell you how it goes.  If it went off without a hitch, we wouldn’t have a movie.

The film seems to be unsure at first if it is going to turn into AlienSunshine, or Event Horizon and it certainly sampler platters all three and as it was pointed out to me, Fringe, but in the end, this is more of a messy take on SPOILERS Crisis on Infinite Earths END OF SPOILERS.  I really do try to avoid spoilers in these reviews, but everything in this is working on surprise and unpredictability.  The film is a genuine delight to watch to figure out where it is going next as it teases with every space set movie ever made.  Sure, I could see much of the plot points coming from a mile away, but how it got there was fascinating.  So, without saying any more about the plot, I will say that I was satisfied with how it all came out even though the movie threatened to get far too silly at times and coherence was far down on the list of priorities of the creators.

I have no clue what kind of budget they were working with here (besides the fact that they seemed to have unsurprisingly gone over budget), but it certainly looks bigger than anything I’d expect from a streaming service.  There’s quite a few cool effects even if there are a few less than stellar ones mixed in.  The acting is well done as the cast keeping things compelling even when the film loses its way and Chris O’Dowd makes for a very effective comic relief to keep the movie from getting too self-serious.  I really need to emphasize that last sentence though because on more than one occasion my brain mentally said, “who cares what any of this means, I’m enjoying it too much”.

Besides differentiating itself in genre, the film also widens the scope considerably.  While the original film necessarily focused on a small group of people and the perspective of the camera and the first sequel was mostly confined to the perspective of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s lead, this one widens up to show a limited look at what’s happening on Earth and this is not a change I am for.  I get why they did it, but for the most part it just unnecessarily muddies the film.  It does have over its sequels the fact that the title feels far better integrated into the plot (here referring to Logue’s character’s book) and doesn’t just feel tacked on.

For once, this review will go up before most of the professionals and so I have no idea what the general response to it is both before seeing it and before submitting this.  All I can say is that to me, the film mostly succeeded.  I have some issues with the end and I don’t think it is something that will hold up to close (okay, maybe to any) scrutiny, but it was a ton of fun to watch.  It could have been just another of any of the films I name-checked earlier, but it did enough to differentiate itself and stand out from the pack.