A Spoiler-Filled Review of Cloverfield Paradox
This review contains spoilers for The Cloverfield Paradox.
The Cloverfield Paradox is an odd goose. Part low budget science-fiction thriller, part attempt at further establishing a cinematic universe brand that is Cloverfield. Perhaps the most disappointing thing in Paradox, formerly known as God Particle, is that the issues within seem to be prevalent before its reconstitution as a Cloverfield project. Glaring reshoots abound to tie-in the narrative to some grander picture.
During the opening portion of the film, it’s just as effective as it needs to be in laying out the Cloverfield Station’s hangout spot for the crew. Everyone gets some personality traits, the international flavor leads to some welcome banter and tensions are brought up early on. Some shocking mystery work happens, multiverse theory kicks up a notch and the next thing you know you’ve got a woman transported between walls and a man vomiting up worms. It’s gross and kind of great in a B movie way. Bonus points for the little Slusho bobble head on the deck. Because, hey, if you’re going to riff on Alien, go full throttle. By the way, if any of you know where I can get one of those bobble heads, please email me immediately.
Cinematographer Dan Mindel (a personal favorite of this writer’s) continues making his career by capturing glamorous interiors of starships and hallways. However, his often kinetic movements with the camera are nowhere to be found here. His work usually jolts with energy but here it feels stagnant. The station is colorful and compact, but never breathes a life it should. It manages to have a distinct look to the other movies, so that’s appreciated. One can’t help but miss the claustrophobic inventiveness of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Director Julius Onah is capable of staging groups in singular rooms but when the tension is supposed to be ratcheting up, it falters heavily. A moment when Elizabeth Debicki’s character is counting down moments before the space station is falling apart is so stunningly without an ounce of tension. The camera merely sits on Debicki’s face as she recites numbers. I couldn’t believe it. It may not fair to compare this to its predecessor’s but if you slap Cloverfield on the title, there is a certain barometer of quality you should be held to.
The problem is, Paradox ends up not really being about anything. Cloverfield is about the trauma and tragedy of people caught in the aftermath of a disaster, effectively a 9/11 parable. 10 Cloverfield Lane is about the dangers of “See something, Say something” and paranoia from security oversight. There are glimmers of a story in Paradox, where nations across the globe are at odds with one another and how people need to work together to save humanity. That doesn’t work out because there are two characters who are effectively villains, everyone else is already working together, and then most of them die horrific deaths. There’s potentially a story with Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character, Ava Hamilton, and her overcoming grief in extreme situations that test her emotional and physical durability. Sorry, The Shallows and Gravity did this better. Some of the deaths are inventive but they feel oddly cruel and tonally confused. It’s not light enough to have that schlocky Cult of Chucky vibe (a direct-to-video masterpiece) but not quite serious enough to be tragic. Also, the characters aren’t really identifiable beyond their faces and Chris O’Dowd’s comedic relief. No disrespect to him. He’s a funny guy and a highlight of the movie.
So how does it do within the context of the franchise? As a Cloverfield movie, it is troubled. The conceit of the franchise up to this point (albeit, only two features) is a well-told Twilight Zone style standalone story with tangential connections to a mysterious background story. Grab your slushos! Check your Tagruato company files! How are those satellites doing? With Paradox, it can’t help but feel like there wasn’t enough belief in the material within the film to stand on its own two feet. So when the subplot through the American suburbs, taking place primarily in a car or underground, it’s clear where the reshoots stepped in. Blatancy be damned. The reshoots lead me to my favorite moment of the movie: the ending. Not just because this messy little thriller needed to wrap up any of the non-ideas it was throwing every which way, but seeing that glorious head of protruding flesh and teeth brought a joy that would have caused a theater to erupt. Onah deserves massive credit for nailing that final shot. The head of the Cloverfield Monster breaching through the clouds has a power that the rest of the movie sorely lacked.
The mystery in Paradox deals with multiverse theories, variables and constants to explain the “truth” about the weird happenings in the Cloverfield universe. Only, they don’t really explain anything. They might just be bringing these ideas up to give the audience an explanation for weird happenings. But the inter-connectivity is only part of the fun of the series. Each entry should be a well-crafted science fiction or horror tale in its own right.
The multiverse shenanigans end up not explaining enough to fill in the gaps of the Cloverfield lore as some may like because it isn’t already woven into the fabric of the original God Particle half of it. Theories of the original Clover creature were consistently linked to something beneath the ocean coming to the surface and terrorizing the planet. Even in a spoiler article, it’s hard to talk about spoilers and connective tissue to the other movies because the connections are so flippant. But the speculation of the series is part of the fun of the series. And the individual nature of the franchise by this point essentially gives them a clean slate on every outing. No franchise is perfect and the speculation is always fun to discuss.
The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t a disaster but you’d be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already a fan of the series. That being said, the last moments of the film really do work like absolute gangbusters. Seeing Ol’ Clovey pop out from beneath the clouds at the end is definitely worth the watch. Oh, how you were missed, my gargantuan, bug-eyed friend. Hopefully, I’ll see you when and wherever Cloverfield 4 drops by. I’ll save you a Slusho.